Donald Trump’s response Wednesday to S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s jab during a nationally televised speech a day earlier was — for Trump — surprisingly subdued.
The GOP front-runner, who has shown no reluctance to steamroll rivals and critics since joining the Republican presidential field last summer, seemed to take a more measured approach to the South Carolina governor’s Tuesday night remarks, which included thinly veiled criticism of the billionaire’s fiery rhetoric.
In a Wednesday interview on “Fox and Friends,” Trump pushed back with what has become his standard response to political adversaries: Claim the critic has solicited campaign donations in the past and accuse them of being soft on illegal immigration.
Both accusations undoubtedly cover a huge swath of Republican officeholders. After all, the billionaire developer has donated regularly over the years — to politicians from both parties. And few high-profile lawmakers in Washington or in state capitals across the country are further to the right — publicly — on immigration than Trump.
“She’s very weak on illegal immigration,” Trump said. “She certainly has no trouble asking me for campaign contributions, because over the years she’s asked me for a hell of a lot of money. It’s sort of interesting to hear her. Perhaps, if I weren’t running, she’d be in my office asking me for money. But now that I’m running she wants to take a weak shot on immigration. I feel very strongly about illegal immigration, she doesn’t.”
Asked if he would consider Haley, touted by many as a vice presidential pick who could potentially broaden the appeal of the GOP ticket next fall, as his running mate, Trump was cool. But he stopped short of ruling out the conservative Southerner and daughter of immigrants.
“Considering I’m leading in the polls by a lot, I wouldn’t say she’s off to a good start, based on what she has just said. Let’s see what happens,” Trump said. “We’ll pick somebody, but we’ll pick somebody who’s very good. But whoever I pick is also going to be very strong on illegal immigration. We’ve had it. We’ve had it with illegal immigration. Believe me … we’ve had it with a lot of things in this country.”
Trump, who is leading national polls but is trailing in next month’s first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses, is counting on a Feb. 20 win in South Carolina to cement his status as the candidate to beat in the still-crowded GOP field.
Haley, tapped by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to give the official GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, didn’t call out Trump but name, but urged Republicans to adopt a more empathetic tone.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the silent call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country,” Haley said.
On Wednesday morning, the second-term South Carolina governor made clear her remarks were directed to Trump, among others.
“”Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk,” Haley told NBC’s “Today Show.”
Haley has been skewered by immigration hard-liners on Twitter, including conservative commentator Ann Coulter and radio host Laura Ingraham, but Trump, who has shown a notoriously quick trigger finger on social media, has held his fire.
Trump should deport Nikki Haley.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 13, 2016