In a broad address about race relations, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday affirmed that "black lives do matter," but accused the protest movement identified with that mantra of inhibiting racial harmony with its strategy to "yell and scream."
The star Republican governor also called on her party to change the way it talks about minorities -- the GOP's current approach is "shameful," she said -- and criticized its presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, for what she characterized as hurtful language about immigrants.
Haley, who earned national acclaim for her leadership in the aftermath of the June 17 Charleston church massacre, spoke in Washington at the National Press Club, an appearance that could be interpreted as an audition for vice president.
The 43-year-old presented herself as the face of "the New South," having overcome racial discrimination growing up in rural South Carolina as a daughter of Indian immigrants and becoming the state's first woman and first minority governor. She posited that South Carolina, after she led the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State Capitol, should be seen as a model for improving attitudes about race.
But Haley also made clear that she could not be stamped as soft on matters of race. She directly took on the Black Lives Matter activist movement, which grew out of the debate over recent police killings of unarmed African Americans. She noted that many of the small businesses and social service institutions that were looted or destroyed by protesters in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York were owned by black people or served black populations.
"Black lives do matter and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that's laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore," Haley said.
"Some people think you need to yell and scream to make a difference," she added. "Often the best thing we can do is turn down the volume and listen."
Haley described the Rev. Al Sharpton protesting outside the governor's office over the Confederate flag. She said she later told him, "If you would have come inside and held out your hand, I would've hugged you."
Haley compared the scenes in Ferguson and Baltimore with the way the Charleston community came together following the shooting at a historically African American church that killed nine people, including a state senator. "We didn't have riots, we had vigils," she said. "We didn't have violence, we had hugs."
Listening and hugging is how Haley suggested divided communities can heal. She also offered this as a lesson to Republican leaders, who she said must tone down their language about minorities.
"The problem for our party is that our approach often appears cold and unwelcoming to minorities," Haley said. "That's shameful and it has to change."
In a question-and-answer session following her speech, Haley was asked about Trump and his inflammatory rhetoric. "Republicans need to remember that the fabric of America came from these legal immigrants," she said. "We should never say a negative word about that."
Haley also said that Trump's attacks -- which he fires off daily against opponents like former Florida governor Jeb Bush as well as other critics -- were counterproductive.
"It accomplishes nothing to get mad at anybody that criticizes you," she said, adding that people want someone in the Oval Office who is calm and level-headed. If the president spouted off at every critic, she said, "We would really have a world war."
However, Haley was careful to compliment Trump, whom she described as a supporter and friend.
"He has tapped into a frustration that's very real, and if you look at the candidates who are rising up, it's Donald Trump, it's Ben Carson, it's Carly Fiorina," Haley said. "Don't lose sight of the fact that they are looking for non-establishment people. Why are they looking for that? Because the people of America don't feel heard."
Haley's speech in Washington was designed to begin introducing herself -- both her biography and her record as governor -- to a national audience. She was asked whether she would consider joining the 2016 ticket as a vice presidential running mate and responded, "If a nominee asks me to sit down, of course I'll talk to them, and then we'll go from there."
Haley opened her speech by describing some of the racial discrimination she faced as a young girl growing up in tiny Bamberg, S.C., where she said her family was "not white enough to be white, we were not black enough to be black. ... We were 'others.' "
When she was 10, she recalled, she and her father took a road trip to Columbia, the state's capitol, to visit a local farmer's market. Her father, who wears a turban, turned some heads. A couple working at the market started whispering, then called the police, and two uniformed officers stood by watching the Haleys while they shopped.
"Neither of us spoke the entire way home," Haley said. "Dad was hoping that I didn't realize what just happened. I, who understood exactly what had happened, didn't want my dad to feel any worse than he already did. That is what the rawness of racial discrimination can do to us. It can render us speechless."