At the beginning of her pre-recorded “response” to the State of the Union address, Nikki Haley echoed the president’s evocation of his 2008 campaign themes by taking up the old 2008 Republican theme of Obama being just a good speech-maker with no substance. Near the end she briskly went through the Republican critique of Obama and the standard GOP agenda of tax-cutting and Obamacare-repealing and defense-spending increases, etc. But in between these bookends, she did something very different.
The emotional and structural heart of Haley’s speech was a not-very-subtle attack on Donald Trump as a “siren voice” of intolerance:
During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.
No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.
That was clear enough. But Haley doubled down by making the saga of the Charleston massacre earlier this year — not coincidentally the beginning of her best moment in office when she squashed conservative resistance to the removal of the Confederate flag from state property — an allegory of the kind of tensions Trump is exploiting.
What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about.
Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.
We didn’t turn against each other’s race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world.
We removed a symbol that was being used to divide us, and we found a strength that united us against a domestic terrorist and the hate that filled him.
There’s an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a tendency to falsely equate noise with results.
Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.
Not much doubt who she was talking about.
So Haley delivered the Republican Establishment’s message to and about Trump as much as any message to and about Obama. By doing so, she is presumably doing their will, and will store up treasure in heaven politically. But will it make her more or less viable as a possible vice-presidential nominee in 2016? That obviously depends on the identity of the person at the top of the ticket. But if I were Donald Trump and had any leverage over the GOP at the end of this nominating contest, I’d make sure Nikki Haley is buried at the Republican Convention in some pre-prime-time, five-minute speech slot, preferably confined to talking about the Tenth Amendment or something. She’s only 43, so maybe she’s shooting for a spot on the ticket — perhaps even the top spot — in 2024 or 2028.