Gov. Haley, Speaker Ryan offer new GOP answer to Trump

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington – — Two fresh faces in the Republican Party — House Speaker Paul Ryan and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — are offering messages of diversity and openness to immigrants that could answer the GOP establishment’s increasingly desperate search for an antidote to the loud pronouncements of presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

Delivering the GOP rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, called for welcoming legal immigrants to the country as long as they’re properly vetted, and for resisting the temptation “to follow the siren call of the angriest voices.”

She acknowledged Wednesday that her comments were partly aimed at Trump, telling NBC’s “Today Show”: “Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk.”

Trump himself criticized Haley in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” calling her “very weak on illegal immigration.”

Less than three weeks before Iowa caucus-goers cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential election, the Republican contest in the crucial first heat has boiled down to a neck-and-neck race between Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Trump.

A new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows Cruz has the support of 25 percent of those likely to attend the Republican caucuses on Feb. 1, closely followed by the billionaire real estate mogul at 22 percent.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican beginning his third month as speaker of the House, has been pledging to offer a bold agenda that will position the GOP as a positive alternative to Obama and the Democrats.

Such rhetoric from two young and charismatic officeholders cheers establishment Republicans who fear that the rise of Trump and Cruz — with their frequent strong words on immigrants in the country illegally — could ruin the GOP for years, eliminating any chance of winning the White House if either is the nominee and turning off swing voters, minorities and women.

“Speaker Ryan and Gov. Haley provide an important contrast, particularly with independent voters, to show what the Republican Party is really about, and it’s not about Donald Trump,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist.

Whether Haley or Ryan can do anything to sideline Trump or Cruz remains to be seen. That’s not their explicit goal, and Haley, in particular, drew a backlash from some conservatives for her State of the Union rebuttal.

“Trump should deport Nikki Haley,” conservative talk host Ann Coulter said over Twitter.

And at the Capitol, Haley’s comments on immigration were being interpreted by House conservatives including Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a Cruz supporter, as a call for unlimited legal immigration into the country, something they reject.