South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley took up the Republican Party standard in response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, calling for turning down the rhetorical heat as well as an about-face from the policies of the last seven years.
Haley, the nation's youngest governor — and among its most popular — has been talked up as a potential vice presidential pick for one of the GOP candidates.
She used her minutes in the national spotlight to offer a vision of a Republican Party that stuck to core conservative beliefs — a stronger military, lower taxes, the repeal of Obamacare.
"Soon, the Obama presidency will end, and America will have the chance to turn in a new direction," Haley said, speaking from the state capital of Columbia.
While Haley took the classic GOP tack of saying Obama's soaring rhetoric had once again fallen short of his accomplishments, she also encouraged her party to take a hard look at its own weaknesses.
"At the outset, I'll say this: you've paid attention to what has been happening in Washington, and you're not naive," she said. "Neither am I. I see what you see. And many of your frustrations are my frustrations," Haley said. "We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around."
Haley's speech — and her very selection by Republican leaders to deliver the response to Obama's final speech — stood in contrast to some of the president's more pointed commentary about America's divisions and those who seek to stoke fear and mistrust for political gain.
She wove an American Dream tale of her own: "I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me everyday how blessed we were to live in this country," Haley said.
"Growing up in the rural south, my family didn't look like our neighbors, and we didn't have much. There were times that were tough, but we had each other, and we had the opportunity to do anything, to be anything, as long as we were willing to work for it."
Hugs, not hate: She also made sure to note her state's struggles after the slaughter of parishioners at a black church by a white gunman last June.
"Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win," she said. "We didn't have violence, we had vigils. We didn't have riots, we had hugs."
Speaking of the hauling down of the Confederate battle flag soon afterward, Haley said, "We removed a symbol that was being used to divide us, and we found a strength that united us against a domestic terrorist and the hate that filled him."
The takeaway, according to Haley: "There's an important lesson in this. In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there's a tendency to falsely equate noise with results," Haley said. She has been openly critical of the frontrunner for her party's 2016 nomination, Donald Trump.
"Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true," she continued. "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."
"Of course that doesn't mean we won't have strong disagreements. We will. And as we usher in this new era, Republicans will stand up for our beliefs."
Whether Haley's performance turns out to be vice presidential material, of course, remains to be seen. But the tone and content of her speech at the very least suggested she and the GOP were not ready to cede all the language of unity to a departing Democratic president.
You can watch Haley's response to Obama here: