The full parameter of the Republican Party’s civil war became starkly clear on Tuesday night when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley charged into rhetorical battle with the angry, anti-establishment wing of her party that has made Donald Trump the current leader in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
Haley was speaking not just for herself; she was delivering her party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, but her speech — approved by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — made news, not by her pro forma criticisms of Obama, but by her bold call for voters to reject the loudest and angriest voices in the political arena. Haley did not name Trump, or any other candidate, but the next morning on NBC’s “Today Show,” she stated clearly who the subject of her speech was.
“Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk,” she said.
The South Carolina governor — who has been widely mentioned as a likely Republican vice presidential candidate — won praise for her remarks from fellow Republican elected officials, from many Democrats and from spokesmen at the White House.
Condemnation came swiftly, though, from the right wing media. Most succinct was a tweet from the right’s bombastic blond bomb thrower, Ann Coulter, which said, “Trump should deport Nikki Haley.”
Coulter elaborated on her complaint the following day on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “But look at this,” she said. “The Democratic president gives a speech last night, and the Republicans respond, and both speeches attack Donald Trump. And Nikki Haley’s going on and on about immigrants, and we need more immigrants, and anyone who’s willing to work should be allowed to emigrate here. Are they not seeing what’s happening with Donald Trump?”
Haley, the daughter of two immigrants from India was, indeed, calling for a more sophisticated approach to immigration, but, as Coulter made clear, immigration has become the biggest lightning rod issue among Republican voters. That is a major reason Trump’s “angry voice” is winning him so much support.
Trump infamously kicked off his campaign by decrying rapists and drug dealers who he claims are flooding in from Mexico and, in nearly every speech, he reiterates his intent to build a giant wall along the southern border, deport 11 million undocumented workers already in the country and temporarily block Muslim refugees from coming to the United States.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul joined the attack on Trump in an MSNBC interview with Chris Hayes, calling the celebrity real estate tycoon “a disaster for the Republican Party.” Paul, the candidate of the libertarian wing of his party who has fallen so low in the polls that he was bumped from Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate on the Fox Business Network, was an early Trump antagonist and has not let up.
“One of the faults of the Republican Party is we’re not diverse enough,” Paul said. “When we become the old white man’s party, which we’ve been kind of headed toward for a while, we’re never going to win another election. So I’m in the camp of saying, yes, we need to be careful of letting the voice of the Republican Party be someone who thinks that all immigrants are rapists or drug dealers.”
Paul, Haley, Ryan and other members of the sane wing of the GOP are now facing the shocking possibility that Trump might be their nominee, and they are desperate to prevent that from happening. The problem they have in achieving that goal is obvious, though. A big share of their “old white man’s party” is eager to follow the loud, angry voices that Haley criticized and to rebel against any person perceived to be part of the establishment they have come to loathe.