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Haley's State Of The Union Response Reinforces Republican Divide


The Republican candidates meet again for another debate in Charleston, S.C. tonight. So maybe it was appropriate that the governor of that state, Nikki Haley, delivered the Republican response to President Obama's final State of the Union address this week. But the Republican response to her response has not been all positive. And that could tell us something about the state of the GOP. Let's talk about that with Washington Post political reporter Robert Costa, who's in the studio with us, coming in again. Always good to see you, Robert.

ROBERT COSTA: Good morning.

GREENE: So let's just begin by listening to Governor Nikki Haley and a bit of what she had to say here.


NIKKI HALEY: Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That's 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.

GREENE: OK, good to turn down the volume, not always good to be the loudest in the room. Who is she talking to here, and what is she trying to say?

COSTA: Governor Haley's person that she was discussing was unsaid, Donald Trump. But there was a clear message here. This is the Republican establishment making its pitch to the party, ahead of the votes just a few weeks away, that the party should not move in the direction of Trump or perhaps even with the hard-line immigration views of Senator Ted Cruz.

GREENE: You wrote in a story this morning that party leaders are tiptoeing around Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. What exactly do you mean by that?

COSTA: It's been stunning to cover the Republican Party in the last few months and recognize that they're not doing any kind of financial effort against Donald Trump. They're not airing ads, in the early states, against him. What they do have at the moment is a messaging war, trying to take control of the party's message and appeal to a broader demographic. But it's been a difficult road for them because they haven't been able to curb Trump's rise at all.

GREENE: Well, the conservative commentator Ann Coulter among others, I mean, had an angry reaction to Nikki Haley. I mean, she tweeted, Trump should deport Nikki Haley.

I mean, that's stunning. How - how big a division right now is there in the party? And how damaging could it be for the party? Or is it a good thing to have a debate like this?

COSTA: It's a yawning, cavernous divide in the GOP. And to watch the reaction to Governor Haley - you saw on one hand the Republican establishment was celebrating, saying that she's a fresh face. She's 43 years old. She's the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India. This is the kind of party we want to be. On the other hand, talk radio erupted. Rush Limbaugh tore apart Governor Haley's message. There are calls for her to be deported. The negative reaction on Twitter, it's not even worth discussing here.

GREENE: (Laughter) Well, OK. Could this play out, I mean, in the months ahead? I guess one question I had - I mean, you know, you had a story. You broke a story some weeks ago suggesting that there's already talk within the party of planning for a possible broken convention. It sounds like those talks might be intensifying.

COSTA: Right now in South Carolina, members of the Republican National Committee are actively discussing a contested convention, the possibility that no one may have enough delegates on that first ballot in Cleveland in the summer. But it wouldn't be a brokered convention. There are very few powerbrokers left in the Republican Party. What we may see is someone come in, not win on the first ballot. Those delegates would be unbound, and you'd have a free-for-all on the convention floor.

GREENE: All right. Well, we'll look forward to that - to whatever happens in the conventions. It'll surely be interesting. It's been an interesting year to cover politics, I'm sure, for you and others. Robert Costa, thanks for coming in, as always.

COSTA: Thank you.

GREENE: He covers politics for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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