Nikki Haley faced a difficult task on Tuesday evening. Tapped by the Republican Party to deliver the response to President Obama’s final State of the Union address, the South Carolina governor attempted to draw a contrast with the president. It was a message clearly intended to convince a country that seven years under the thumb of the Democratic party has been seven years too many.
But the youngest governor in the United States, and daughter of immigrants, was not just trying to differentiate the Republican Party from the president. Haley was also trying to distance the party from Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner whose calls for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and harsh criticism of unauthorized immigrants has risked alienating voters that the Republican establishment desperately wants to attract.
Attempting to achieve both objectives at once, Haley, at times, sounded not so different from the president, who had also tried to outline an alternative to the politics of Trump.
There was the warning. Haley took aim at the real estate mogul without ever calling him out by name as she cautioned Americans not to give in to the allure of angry and divisive rhetoric. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation,” the governor implored. “No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country,” Haley added. The words echoed elements of Obama’s speech, in which the president called on Americans to “reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion.”