GOP front-runner Donald Trump said during the debate that he was not offended by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s denunciation of him during her response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this week.
“I am a friend of hers,” Trump said, noting that he met with the Republican governor this afternoon before the debate. “Wherever you are sitting, Nikki, I am a friend.”
Haley’s speech – the official GOP response to Obama – illustrated the fault line in the Republican Party that is driving the dynamics of this year’s presidential campaign.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation,” Haley said. "No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
Haley did not mention Trump by name, but later said she was referring to him, among others, in those remarks.
Her response was praised by the GOP leadership and some Democrats. Trump, though, in the immediate aftermath called Haley soft on immigration, and other conservative Republicans bashed her. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Haley ought to be deported. (Haley is the American-born daughter of Indian immigrants.)
During the debate, Trump stood by his anger and said it is justified.
“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly, and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” Trump said. “Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. Obamacare – we’re going to repeal it or replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. So, yes, I am angry.”
Before and since her speech, Haley’s name has been floated as a potential vice presidential pick.
Haley was viewed as a rising Republican star when she was elected governor in 2010, but her luster faded amid battles with her state’s Legislature. Her popularity in South Carolina increased as the economy improved, and the moment that pushed her into the national spotlight was her handling of the June mass shooting at a historic African American church in Charleston, and the ensuing decision to take down the Confederate flag on the State House grounds.
If Haley were put on the ticket, as a minority and a woman, she would be a representation of the groups of voters that the GOP recognizes as crucial in its efforts to retake the White House.