There seems to be a pretty strong consensus on the right that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s State of the Union rebuttal speech was a badly misguided attempt to hurt Donald Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. That her intent was to harm Trump was basically confirmed by Haley this morning during appearances on the TODAY show with Matt Lauer and CNN’s New Day show with Don Lemon.
What’s still controversial is whether the effort will backfire, as most right-wing commentators I’ve read or seen on television have predicted.
Take the ever-reasonable AllahPundit from the right-wing blog Hot Air:
Yeah, I don’t see the strategic value of having Haley go after Trump, even if not by name. That’s something you’d want to do if you were worried that he’s tainted the entire party’s image, especially with swing voters and Latinos, and needed a splashy way for the rest of the GOP to say “that’s not us.” But I can’t think of a single poll offhand that demonstrates in a convincing way that voters now equate Trump with the GOP in its entirety…
…But Republican leaders, for whatever strange reason, decided to be proactive about the “that’s not us” message. Haley’s the perfect messenger for that, not only because of her sex and race but because of her role in bringing down the Confederate battle flag at the statehouse, one of the most ostentatiously anti-anti-PC moves a Republican pol has made in ages. In various ways, from her bio to her governing experience to her friendliness with Republican leaders, Haley is a sort of anti-Trump. Asking her to do the rebuttal without any mention of “angry voices” or whatever would itself have been a symbolic rebuke of Trumpmania. As it is, I don’t know what they think they’re gaining by handing Trump fans a reason to object that the party is meddling in the primary by attacking him on national TV.
It’s not immediately clear to me that Haley was singling out Trump. From her comments on the TODAY show, it appears she had a broader set of targets that likely included Ted Cruz. I also don’t see precisely why or how it helps Trump more than marginally to have the Establishment seemingly gang up on him. His voters are angry with the Establishment already, but are they really going to work that much harder now or turn out to caucus when they wouldn’t have otherwise?
But this idea that Haley’s comments will only benefit Trump is very widespread. I saw former RNC chairman Michael Steele make it on MSNBC last night.
Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics expressed the idea in a Tweet:
I'm sure that having Haley dedicate her SOTU response to Trump was cathartic, but it does increase his chances of winning the nomination.
— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) January 13, 2016
The Trump-friendly folks over at Breitbart are furious:
If Haley wants to endorse a GOP presidential candidate, hit the stump for that candidate, and rip into Donald Trump, no one is going to begrudge her that. But to use the State of the Union response to publicly attack her own frontrunner must be unprecedented, and certainly serves as more proof to Trump’s supporters that the Republican Establishment is much more interested in DC Media love than winning elections and advancing their legislative agenda.
The eyes of the entire country were on Haley Tuesday night, and rather than use that time to make a case against the Democrats, Haley squandered it by attacking the frontrunner, which is all anyone is talking about tonight.
Haley’s unconscionably selfish behavior reminds me of Chris Christie’s keynote address for Mitt Romney at the 2012 convention. Rather than make the case for Romney or against Obama, he used the opportunity to puff himself up.
The GOP Establishment has lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections.
For the good of the country, this suicidal Republican Establishment temple must come down and be ground into dust.
On the other hand, the Trump-hostile Red State liked Haley’s speech and thought it would at least make things more difficult for The Donald in South Carolina.
But, again, I don’t think Haley’s intent was really to single out Trump. The Establishment probably hates Cruz more and doesn’t seem to think he’d be much better as a general election candidate.
Maybe I’m wrong, but the response to the speech seems strange to me.