Nikki Haley and the GOP’s civil war hilarity

    If we’re jonesing for twisted black humor, who needs Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes when we’ve got the GOP?

    Seriously, folks. Since the dawn of the Republican party 160 years ago, when have the elected leaders of the party establishment ever sanctioned a verbal assault on their own presidential frontrunner? Never — until two nights ago.

    That’s when South Carolina governor Nikki Haley — with an official OK from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — tapdanced on Donald Trump’s head. In the midst of delivering the party’s State of the Union rebuttal, she basically called him a toxic loudmouth. Despite her rhetorical politesse, the message was unmistakable:

    “Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation …. 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 yesterday morning, on NBC News, she decoded that passage (although it wasn’t necessary): “Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I believe is irresponsible talk.”

    Clearly, the Trump-loathing party leaders are trying to lay down some markers, before it’s too late. Haley, a rumored vice-presidential prospect, was basically chosen to perform triage on the GOP’s damaged image. Her aim, vetted by the leaders, was to reboot the GOP as a kinder, gentler party that aspires to be tolerant and inclusive. She is, after all, “the proud daughter of Indian immigrants.” She also said that Republicans should be tolerant of gay marriage. (“We should respect differences in modern families.”)

    And heck, she even said that Republicans are partly responsible for our polarized political climate! (“We as Republicans need to own that truth. 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.”)

    Well. As befits the party’s civil war, Haley is now the target of wingnut fury.

    It doesn’t matter that most of her SOTU rebuttal was rooted in solid conservative precepts (Obamacare is a disaster, etc.). It doesn’t matter that she has governed as a conservative and that, in fact, her 2010 outsider candidacy got its first big boost from Sarah Palin. All that matters, apparently, is that she sinned by suggesting that GOP hate speech is bad for the party and the nation.

    Katie McHugh, an apparatchik in the right-wing Breitbart media empire, promptly tweeted: “Nimrata Randhawa Haley has no clue about America’s heritage.” (That’s Nikki’s full name. Right-wingers think it’s a brilliant tactic to depict someone as a funny-sounding foreigner. Like when they recite “Barack Hussein Obama.”)

    Ann Coulter said: “Trump should deport Nikki Haley.” (Despite the fact that Haley is an American-born citizen.) Talk show host Laura Ingraham jeered: “Obama and Haley should have appeared together in new spirit of bipartisanship.” (The worst insult is to link someone to Obama.) John Nolte, a right-wing North Carolina activist, said: “To use SOTU to attack our own frontrunner, regardless of who it is, is OUTRAGEOUS! …. The GOP establishment is garbage.” And so on.

    But in the other trench, Trump-loathers lauded Haley for telling it like it is. Jeb! called her remarks “positive and uplifting.” Party chairman Reince Priebus said she’s the “fantastic” face of a “new, young, and diverse party.” Matt Lewis, a pro-Republican commentator, said: “Very good Nikki Haley speech. the Party of Ryan/Haley is a sharp contrast to the Party of Trump.”

    Lewis’ remark frames it perfectly. This is a party at war with itself. If even Nikki Haley, a southern conservative, is slimed as a RINO for merely speaking the truth, what are the odds that the GOP can achieve intramural kumbaya in 2016?

    Meanwhile, the roster of Republicans willing to attack Trump continues to expand. Last Friday, I quoted several who have gone public. Earlier this week, GOP speechwriter Mark Salter wrote in Esquire: “There have been lots of candidates in the past I’ve disagreed with, even loathed. There’s only one I’ve wanted to punch in the face as he’s doing one of his pursed-lips, chin-tilting Il Duce impersonations.” In Salter’s words, Trump is a “blowhard kind of asshole.” (Mark, tell us how you really feel.)

    And this morning, we got Peter Wehner, a prominent conservative Republican since the Reagan era. He says that if Trump wins the nomination, he’ll stay home in November:

    “Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.”

    President Obama, during his SOTU speech:

    It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide …

    He’s too hard on himself.

    Lincoln built no bridges. He died because of his era’s bloody divide; prior to his dying he endured four years of “baboon” insults, and worse. As for FDR, he was thoroughly hated by business moguls and the Republican right. His wife was smeared as a “n—-r lover” and worse. He knew he could never bridge his era’s divide. In a 1936 speech he simply said of his right-wing opponents: “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

    Oh joy. The Republicans are back on TV tonight, debating again. (Minus Carly and the ophthalmologist.) And Nikki Haley is hosting it! (You cannot make this stuff up.)

    I’ll be live-tweeting the festivities.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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