Newt Gingrich will have to prove that he’s still relevant and Donald Trump may want to check his potty mouth at the door, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday, on the eve of the first debate in the 2012 race for the GOP presidential nomination.
The Greenville, S.C., event — to be broadcast at 9 p.m. tonight by Fox News — will be somewhat diminished by the fact that several major players will be missing.
Five candidates will be featured: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty; Herman Cain, the former Atlanta radio talk-show host; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas; and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
Neither Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, nor Trump, the celebrity real estate magnate, will be in the state for tonight’s opening bell. Neither will former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
But they’ll all come sooner or later. Since 1980, no Republican nominee has succeeded without carrying South Carolina — in line to be the third state in next year’s presidential contest, and the first in the South.
That makes Haley’s endorsement crucial to the contest. The governor was in Atlanta Wednesday for a tourism-boosting event, and talked about what she’ll be listening for, tonight and later:
Insider: Tomorrow’s debate in Greenville won’t include what many would call the top tier of Republican candidates. Are you disappointed?
Haley: The candidates that are at this debate will certainly have a head start — in that they will have the attention of South Carolina. And they’re also telling South Carolina that they think it’s important to be there.
Q: Is absence a sign of disrespect?
A: I don’t take it as disrespect. What I will tell you is that anybody that discounts South Carolina will be making a huge mistake. The people of South Carolina are very policy-driven, and they want specifics. You have to be very well-prepared before you come to this state.
Q: How would you characterize the entire field of prospective GOP candidates so far? Finished or unfinished?
A: It’s hard to tell whether the slate is full or not. What I can tell you is, I — along with the people of South Carolina — don’t want to hear from candidates on how they’re going to win.
What we want to hear is how do they feel [about] the debt ceiling. What are they going to do with the fact that we’re having to deal with bullying labor unions? How are they going to handle gas prices?
What are they going to do in light of the death of Osama bin Laden?
Q: You mentioned about a week ago that you didn’t want to hear candidates simply trashing President Barack Obama.
A: The candidates — they need to understand this is not about everything that’s wrong with President Obama. This is about everything they’re going to do to make it right.
They’ve got actual, real time issues that we want to know how they would handle if they were in President Obama’s place.
Q: Is there anyone who particularly appeals to you?
A: Right now, I’m completely open-minded and anxious to hear what they’re going to do. We don’t want them coming into South Carolina with their big-time political consultants and them just going to visit GOP clubs. They have to understand that this is very grass-roots driven. They have to go visit every corner of South Carolina and appeal to all types.
Q: Are there specific traits that you will be looking for in a presidential candidate?
A: Ideally, we would love somebody that’s strong in business — someone that has had experience in showing leadership and making tough decisions. Someone that understands that it’s not always about politically right moves. I think we’re looking for a fighter.
Q: It’s been said that last week, starting with President Obama’s release of his birth certificate and ending with the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, was a signal to Republicans that they need to get more serious about challenging an incumbent president. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely….We need someone that can understand this is not about dealing with distractions. This is about focusing and leading on what’s going to better our country.
Q: Do you think Donald Trump would sell well in South Carolina?
A: He’s coming the middle of this month, so we’ll find out.
Q: I’m sure the f-word is said your state, but I also assume that people don’t like it said in public.
A: We are very polite in South Carolina. And very respectful. I would hope that all of our candidates understand that before they come here.
Q: In an interview last February, you said this about Newt Gingrich: “There was a place and time for him.” What did you mean by that?
A: He’s a person that has had great ideas. And what he’s going to have to do is really plead to the people of South Carolina and see if those ideas are still relevant. See if he has new ideas that connect with people.
After the Haley interview, we put a call into the Gingrich exploratory campaign. “I think Newt’s 1990’s ideas of cutting spending are all relevant ideas for today,” said spokesman Rick Tyler. Among those Tyler cited were balancing the federal budget, strengthening defense and intelligence-gathering, and policies aimed at economic growth.
Gingrich is the preferred candidate of Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider