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Nikki Haley talks about why she endorsed Mitt Romney

at 12:08 PM ET, 12/18/2011

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who became a fresh face of the tea party movement during her 2010 campaign, Friday threw her support behind Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Haley sat down with The Washington Post in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to talk about the Republican presidential race. Here are edited excerpts of the interview.

 The Washington Post: “I wanted to get a sense of your thinking as you met with the other candidates and why you ended up settling on Gov. Romney?”

 South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: “When I met with the other candidates, we had good conversations. It was all good policy. They all had good attributes that made you like them. What really came down to everything was just really my frustration with Washington – with the fact that they can’t seem to come to a decision, they can’t seem to balance the budget, they can’t seem to find the first dollar to cut. There’s just no leadership there whatsoever. And the only way I’ve ever been able to describe Washington is chaos. I just didn’t want anybody else related to Washington.… But it was a matter of me sitting down and saying, ‘I’ve got to ask you some tough questions,’ and making sure that all those other things that you don’t hear in debates, all those other things that really matter, that you get your answers so that you can sleep at night so that you know, yes, this is definitely the right person.”

The Post: “It seems like with a lot of conservatives, particularly in South Carolina, Romney’s had some trouble trying to convince them that he would repeal Obamacare, that he is conservative on all the social issues that people care about, that he’s going to be a trusted reliable conservative in office. And you obviously asked him some of these tough questions. How did he convince you in a way he hasn’t been able to convince a lot of voters?”

Haley: “I think they’ve just heard sound bytes…I think when they hear the fact that on day one he will give South Carolina and any other state that wants one a waiver, and on day one he will work to repeal Obamacare, that’s all everybody wants to know. They just want to know that you’re not going to mandate on them….And everybody knows you’ve got this Olympic story that’s failing and he went in there and changed the culture of spending in the Olympics to make it a success story for the country. So proven results is what the people of South Carolina care about. That is the story we will get out. It’s not what he said, it’s what he did, and I think that when they look at what he did, they’ll realize this is absolutely the right person to be the next president of the United States.”

 The Post: “What advice did you give him about his message here and his campaign here based on your experience a year ago?”

 Haley: “I didn’t have to tell him anything about his message because it’s a good one. What I did say is it’s about getting in front of as many people as you can and letting them hear you. They need to know what you stand for, they need to know that you’re more than just a candidate on stage at a debate. They need to actually see you and hear you. That was the only advice I needed to give him because I honestly know that when they see him and hear him, they won’t have any questions.”

 The Post: “Did he make any promises for how much he’d be here?”

 Haley: “He very much wants to be in South Carolina. He wants to win South Carolina.”

 The Post: “What kind of role are you going to play on the campaign?”

 Haley: “Whatever they tell me to do.”

The Post: “What if they say go attack Newt Gingrich on the ‘Today’ show?”

Haley: “No. I’m not going to do that. I don’t need to attack anyone to make him look better. He’s a good candidate on his own merit. I’ve never thought that you talk about anybody else. I’ve always think you talk about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do things. And the people of South Carolina don’t want to hear about anyone else. They want to hear about the person themselves. So, no, that is not going to be my role. They’re very aware that’s not going to be my role. My role is to make sure that we understand that I as the governor of South Carolina cannot afford President Obama in office four more years and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that people realize that it should be President Romney that’s in the White House next time.”

 The Post: “When you ran in 2010 in this four-way primary against the establishment, and you were the outsider and you had your government reform initiative and you were running against figures of the party who’d been there a long time and had been in Columbia a long time, how do you explain then why Newt Gingrich has caught on so much here when he’s a former speaker of the House and has lived in Washington for 35 years? How do you explain what’s happened here? Why are the same voters that picked you over establishment figures now picking him?”

 Haley: “I don’t know it’s the same voters that picked me that are picking him. I think that there is a select group of people that have attached themselves to him the same way there’s a select group that have attached to Santorum and to everybody else. What I do think is that the people of South Carolina are now saying, ‘Okay, we’ve got to start making a decision.’ And so now I think you’re going to see it all start to move, and I think you’re going to see it all start to settle. I mean, there was a time when we saw every one of those candidates up in the polls, and now it’s Newt’s time. And I think in a few weeks it’s going to be Governor Romney that’s up there at the top. But every time, we’ve watched people go up and down. It’s not the right time to look at that snapshot yet and say this is what’s going to happen in South Carolina. It’s just too early.”

The Post: “Have you at all entertained the possibility of being considered for his ticket if he were to be the nominee?”

Haley: “You know, I’ve got the best job being governor of South Carolina. I made a promise to the people of the state and I think you keep your promises. Even if offered, I would decline. There are plenty of people who would make great VP candidates. He’ll have plenty to choose from. So no.”

The Post: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

Haley: “What’s been the nicest surprise is how much he’s changed. I supported him in ‘08, but it’s really amazing to look at the change in what was a candidate back in 2008 to now see him evolve into a leader. You know, as a candidate, he talked about what he could do. Now he’s talking about what he’s gonna do. It’s not figuring it out the first day. He knows the first 30 days, 60 days. This is a man that understands all the problems that exist in our country and he already knows exactly what he’s gonna do when he gets there. It’s pretty impressive.”

 
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