Which Republican party gave the State of the Union response?
Four of the last Republican responses to the State of the Union address have been given by minorities. Nimrata Randhawa Haley, otherwise known as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, gave the most recent one Tuesday night. She is the first female to serve as South Carolina’s governor, the second Indian-American state governor, and in her own words, “the proud daughter of Indian immigrants.”
The young and politically nimble governor has become a Republican superstar, heavily rumored to be on vice presidential shortlists for Republican presidential contenders. And there is no mistaking Haley with a Democrat - she's fiscally and socially conservative. Just ask Sarah Palin who endorsed her early on. Haley also has no problem bashing Democrats and President Barack Obama, but at the same time she believes her party needs “to recognize contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership.”
But amid her conservative-ness, Haley engages in moderate rhetoric. Perhaps no where was this more apparent than in her discussion of immigration last night.
"We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion just like we have for centuries."
Beside Haley, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart gave the Spanish-language State of the Union response. In it, he expanded upon the need to reform immigration. In the fifth Spanish-language GOP response, the Florida congressman highlighted his own immigrant ancestry – the son of Cuban exiles who reminded their sons every day to give thanks to God for being in such a wonderful nation.
Rep. Diaz-Balart spent a considerable portion of his response on the topic, in particular the need to find a “permanent humane solution for people who live in the shadows, while respecting the law.” He couched this discussion in the attainment of the American Dream and the need to fix our immigration system, rather than just a wholesale shunning of immigration. He did not bash Obama over immigration legislation.
But are they in the same party as Donald Trump or Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who have no interest in moderation and even less in a balanced immigration reform? In fact, during Haley’s speech conservative commentator Laura Ingram called for Haley to be deported.
The public face of the GOP swings from one extreme to the other. After Romney’s loss in 2012 the Republican Party published an autopsy report that boiled down to the need for the GOP to court Latinos and tone down its immigration rhetoric.
Shortly after, King made the headlines for his comments about immigrants who have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Then there’s the electorate. About a third of the Republican electorate supports Donald Trump, whose plan for immigration reform is closing our borders and deporting all undocumented immigrants. These are the folks who fill stadiums by the thousands to support Trump’s vision of America.
About another third of the Republican electorate supports the crop of more moderate candidates who echo the type of message that Haley and Diaz-Balart delivered. These are conservatives who may not necessarily agree with the Democratic vision of comprehensive immigration reform but who recognize the need to find a realistic and humane solution.
Now, I get it. Because of our two-party system, each party must accommodate a multitude of interests. However, I don’t think the GOP has a big enough tent to house such disparate visions as those of the Republican presidential front-runner Trump and those who subscribe to the GOP State of the Union response from last night.
The GOP’s tent is busting at the seams. Some differences are healthy but the degree to which the GOP family isn’t even remotely on the same page hints that the GOP as we know it may not exist much past 2016.