South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told the nation Tuesday that Republicans would have improved the nation at home and abroad if the party controlled the White House during President Barack Obama’s terms.
But the Republican first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 didn’t spare those in the GOP while delivering the response to the State of the Union.
"We as Republicans need to own that truth,” she said. “We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken. And then we need to fix it.”
During her nine-minute speech from the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia, Haley also criticized 2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump, discussed South Carolina’s reaction to the mass shooting at a Charleston church last year and suggested voters can change the nation’s direction in this year’s presidential election
“We have big decisions to make,” the nation’s youngest sitting governor said. “Our country is being tested.”
Since this was Haley’s second major televised speech since taking office, she shared her background as the daughter of Indian immigrants.
She used the story about her family to criticize Trump, who has suggested a temporary ban on allowing Muslims into the country after attacks in France and California. Obama also chided Trump in his address.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” said Haley, who has not endorsed a candidate in the race. “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."
Still she backed views of fellow Republicans by insisting on closing borders to undocumented immigrants and refugees “whose intentions cannot be determined.” She has opposed Syrian refugees coming into South Carolina.
"I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies,” she said.
Though Haley said she would not offer a response to the president as others from the party not in the White House have done, the governor started her address by criticizing Obama’s legacy after praising how he broke barriers as the nation’s first African-American president.
“The President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words,” she said. “As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels. We’re feeling a crushing national debt, a health care plan that has made insurance less affordable and doctors less available, and chaotic unrest in many of our cities. Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since Sept. 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.”
Haley said a Republican in the Oval Office would have lowered taxes, slowed spending, stopped the health-care reform law and showed more strength overseas – refrains from the GOP presidential contenders on the campaign trail. South Carolina holds the South’s first presidential primary next month.
“We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around,” she said. “And rather than just thanking our brave men and women in uniform, we would actually strengthen our military, so both our friends and our enemies would know that America seeks peace, but when we fight wars we win them.”
Haley sounded a note of compromise when, in months after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriage nationwide, she said a Republican president would respect the “differences in modern families.”
Still, a GOP president would insist on respect for religious liberty as well as state rights and the Second Amendment, she said.
The address gave Haley a chance to show how South Carolina reacted with grace to one of last year’s biggest tragedies. An avowed white supremacist from the Columbia-area was charged with killing nine African-American parishioners at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston in June.
"Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win,” she said. “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.”
Haley noted how the Charleston tragedy led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House grounds in respect for African-Americans and others who see the Civil War banner as a symbol of hate.
"Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true,” she said. “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.”