Haley’s speech-after-the-speech appeared to play well with the Republican voters, too, according to GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who measured record-high favorability ratings in a focus group during Haley's response.
It's no surprise that members of the mainstream media would love Haley's speech. She was civil in her criticism of the president, reflective in her admission that Republicans "need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America's leadership" and compassionate in her appraisal of immigrants. In short, she delivered much of what the media considers lacking in a presidential campaign season full of angry and divisive rhetoric. She also delivered pretty strong — if indirect — criticism of the candidate the media has clashed with for months on end: Donald Trump.
What's more, the speech cemented Haley's status as a thoughtful conservative. Previously, her pretty bold move to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds in response to the Charleston massacre earned her plaudits as well.
But the "mainstream" media — a pejorative term in conservative circles — might not be the most important audience when it comes to Haley's political future and the helpfulness of her message. Pleasing them certainly doesn't equate to satisfying the voters who have propelled Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to the top of GOP presidential polls. And this is who Haley's message was clearly aimed at.
The reviews from much of the conservative media, which is more in tune with the Republican base, weren't so glowing.
(Carpenter is a former Cruz aide who did analysis for CNN on Tuesday night.)
Fox News Channel invited viewers to evaluate Haley's address on social media, and the feedback was, well, mixed.
There’s a clear message to Republican presidential candidates here, especially as Haley becomes the subject of vice presidential buzz: "Don’t you dare go this moderate route. Seriously, don’t even think about it." And Haley is getting a dose of that now.
A leading argument in the conservative media is that Republicans lost the last two presidential elections because the party’s standard-bearer wasn’t conservative enough. Mitt Romney, in particular, is often cited as an example of a moderate candidate who couldn’t turn out the base on Election Day. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh summarized the philosophy early last year before the primary season began in earnest.
We have got to nominate a conservative Republican. It’s the only way we’re gonna win. … We don’t need people that think that Washington’s not working because Republicans are not cooperative. We don’t need that. We don't need candidates that think 10 percent or 20 percent or 30 percent of the Democrat agenda will help us win. We don’t need people who are, “Yeah, we can’t be too critical. You know, the voters don’t like conflict. They want us to get along.” That candidate is gonna lose like that candidate always loses. It’s not complicated. We’ve tried it the establishment way year after year, presidential election after presidential election. The evidence is in. We know what wins. We know also what loses.
So far this cycle, Limbaugh and those who subscribe to his way of thinking appear to be getting their way. Cruz, a tea party darling, is a top contender; Trump, while not a lifelong Republican and not across-the-board conservative, has been embraced on the right for his hard-line on immigration and tough talk on basically everything. Trump doesn’t sound like a guy who would shy away from conflict in Washington, and conservatives have rewarded his approach with strong poll numbers.
But no ballots have been cast yet, and there’s still time for a member of the dreaded “establishment” — namely Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — to make a move. Even if Cruz or Trump were to win the nomination, there’s always a temptation to move toward the center in a general election — to start talking more like Haley did Tuesday night, in other words.
In condemning Haley’s response, conservative media types who have been banging the drum for a less-moderate nominee are essentially warning Cruz and Trump not to give in. If they want to stay in the good graces of Limbaugh, Ingraham and the rest, they better not mimic the South Carolina governor — or pick her as a running mate.
And that's an aspect of Haley's response that the media would do well to consider. While Haley's notable stance on the Confederate flag doesn't appear to have alienated conservatives, criticizing the likes of Trump and Cruz surely could.