James Oliphant, Reuters, January 13, 2016
Donald Trump was not in the room during U.S. President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union speech, but the Republican presidential front-runner was a looming presence nonetheless.
Both Obama’s speech on Tuesday and, for that matter, the Republican response by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, took pains to rebuke Trump, the real estate billionaire whose red-hot rhetoric has endeared him to some and dismayed others in the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Obama and Haley, although from different parties, offered a defense of establishment politics, a plea for optimism and a quest for common ground.
Obama seemed to refer specifically to Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration following a deadly shooting attack last month in San Bernardino, California, by a couple authorities said had been radicalized.
“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness,” Obama said.
Trump has mounted much of his insurgent candidacy on the notion of America losing ground, both economically and in terms of global influence. Obama rejected that idea outright.
“It’s easier to be cynical,” Obama said, “to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.”
While consistently criticizing Obama’s record, Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants and a potential Republican vice presidential choice, also seemed to indict Trump’s message.
“Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference,” she said. “That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.”
Like Obama, Haley did not mention Trump by name during her address but she criticized him in an interview on NBC’s “Today show” on Wednesday while calling on the Republican Party to be more inclusive.
“Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk,” she said.
Trump responded shortly afterward by telling Fox News that Haley has been “very weak on illegal immigration” for a long time.
The White House gave Haley credit for defending “American values” in her speech. “She was willing to do something that a lot of other Republicans–leading Republicans–have been unwilling to do,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.