Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley distanced herself from her onetime boss, President Donald Trump, in a closed-door speech on Thursday night, telling members of the Republican National Committee that the President’s actions after the election “will be judged harshly by history.”
“President Trump has not always chosen the right words,” Haley said, according to a Republican familiar with the remarks. “He was wrong with his words in Charlottesville, and I told him so at the time. He was badly wrong with his words yesterday. And it wasn’t just his words. His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”
The remarks came during the second day of the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, which was closed to the press, and just one day after a mob of Trump supporters – incited by the President – stormed the Capitol.
Haley, since leaving the Trump administration in 2018, has at times criticized his rhetoric while backing up much of his policy focus. The former South Carolina governor is one of many top Republicans seen as likely presidential candidates in 2024.
By criticizing his post-election record after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, Haley is just the latest former Trump official – including former chief of staff John Kelly and former Attorney General Bill Barr – to fault the President.
During the meeting’s general session on Friday morning, two Trump allies were re-elected to their posts atop the party – chairwoman Ronna McDaniel unanimously won a third term and co-chair Tommy Hicks beat out three competitors to keep serving in his same role.
Publicly, many Republicans stuck with their support of the President and defended his response to the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday. Privately, however, some Republicans said this meeting was the start of a division of the party and things will soon change once Trump leaves office in less than two weeks.
“After the Inauguration, you’re going to see the party split off into two factions. There are already talks about this happening in private,” a state GOP official said. “Trump won’t go away after this.”
Dr. Demi Kouzounas, the chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party, said she believed Trump condemned the violence appropriately and said the resignations of some Cabinet members and calls for invoking the 25th Amendment or the impeachment of the President are an “overreaction.”
“They may be concerned about their own political careers. I mean, none of us here feel that should be happening. But politics are politics,” Kouzounas said.
Despite the events of the last week, Republicans seemed confident about the direction of the party, despite losing two Senate runoffs in Georgia and as a result control of the Senate.
“Our party has grown. And we got so many more people to join the Republican Party, we got the most numbers ever in this election, nobody feels that the party is downswing, the party has risen,” Kouzounas said. “We still feel optimistic that the party is going in the right direction.”
There was very little mention of Trump during the mostly procedural session on Friday.
McDaniel, in thanking the crowd for re-electing her, reflected back on Trump first nominating her to the role when she served as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, but didn’t bring him up when talking about where the party goes from here.
“I am pissed about losing in critical elections,” McDaniel said during her speech, not mentioning the President by name.
There was discussion of election fraud and making sure the RNC is better equipped to deal with the issue in future cycles, but there was no mention of any of the allegations of fraud made by the President about the November election.
McDaniel did take a moment to condemn the violence that occurred at the Capitol on Wednesday “in the strongest possible terms.”
“We need this to stop. The violence needs to stop. And as the leader of the Republican Party, please don’t do this. We can do things peacefully and that is the path we need to take,” McDaniel said at the start of Friday’s session. “As the transition of power continues over the next two weeks, I call on individuals to respect law enforcement, law and order, and our great system of governance.”
RNC members and guests gathered in the hallways to talk about the events of the last week and many of them said that while the violence that occurred in Washington was wrong, they don’t support the removal of the President.
“I’m not condoning it, it’s disgraceful,” said John Burnett, a co-chair of the New York State Republican Party, of the violence. “I’m a business person. I look at risk. We only have two weeks. We can’t wait this out for two weeks? Impeaching him is only going to do what, pour gasoline on a fire that we’re all trying to make sure that we were putting it out with no more crazy activities locally or nationally.”