The dire importance of the rebuttal to Obama’s 2016 State of the Union speech tonight was not lost on the Republican party. With the Iowa caucuses just days away and a reasonable expectation that Obama’s speech would be one of his best yet, the GOP did something that I consider to be a pretty smart move (of which there have been few lately). For the first time, they had an Indian-American woman deliver the SOTU rebuttal on live TV tonight, and a reliably conservative one at that. And South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was up to the task.
What dramatically separated her rebuttal speech from most of the nasty GOP rhetoric in this election season was her dramatic positivity, which was more in line with Obama’s own speech. This was the most positive rebuttal to any of Obama’s SOTU speeches by far. Without specifically naming Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, she asked her fellow right wingers to “turn down the volume” and not fall in line behind those who bark the loudest. There could be no doubt that her party brought Haley out in front of the cameras out of a deep fear of the Republican regicide playing out in the polling, and potentially in the primaries.
Nikki Haley did her job successfully. She threaded the needle by trying to herd the audience somewhere between Obama and Trump. She admitted that Republicans shared some of the blame for the way things are- while still criticizing Obama and his Democratic allies, and asking that Americans work together towards better, pragmatic solutions on health care, or immigration. In effect, she was a very able mouthpiece for the Republican establishment tonight. However, like most of the Obama SOTU rebuttals I’ve seen, there was very little discussion of policy. But policy probably wasn’t her purpose this evening.
Despite Haley’s very strong night, it may be too late for the GOP establishment to maintain control over the primary process. There is a real chance that Trump and/or Cruz, neither of whom the establishment wants to see winning the nomination, will win most, if not all of the early primary states this winter. In the meanwhile, we expect that talk of Haley being chosen as the running mate of the eventual primary winner- largely because of her Indian-American background- will continue to brew. We welcome that.
After all, she does look good with a gun.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor