In a season of bigotry, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has served up a tonic. Delivering the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday, Haley, like the president, never mentioned Donald Trump's name. But in her case, as in Obama's, it was perfectly clear that Trump and his noxious brand of nativism were principal targets.
Haley is no paragon of tolerance on immigration. In her first term as governor, she signed a bill, modeled on legislation in Arizona, requiring police to check the papers of any detainee they suspect may be in the country illegally.
More recently, she opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees in South Carolina and had the state join a lawsuit that has derailed the Obama administration's attempt to use executive action to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Nonetheless, Trump's poisonous stance on the issue -- his contemptuous remarks about Mexicans and proposals to ban Muslim immigrants and deport millions of undocumented residents with deep roots in the United States -- crossed a line that steadfast conservatives such as Haley cannot abide.
In her speech Tuesday, she spoke for what was once the consensus among mainstream Republicans, whose timidity on the migration issue has grown in proportion to Trump's ascendancy. She recalled Americans' common heritage as immigrants -- and the risks of vilifying those who would follow in their footsteps.
"During anxious times it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation," she said. "No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."
She did not add "as unwelcome as Trump would make them feel," but her meaning was clear.
Like many Republicans, Haley is loath to embrace any plan to ratify the presence of millions of illegal immigrants in this country, either by granting most of them legal status or setting them on a course to citizenship. In her speech, she didn't even mention the 11 million immigrants living in society's shadows and had nothing to propose beyond stopping illegal immigration and turning away "refugees whose intentions cannot be determined."
By contrast, the GOP's Spanish-language "translation" of Haley's remarks, delivered by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Florida), peddled a gentler line for the benefit of Hispanic listeners, stressing the "obvious" need for "a permanent and humane solution to those who live in the shadows."
Yet even as Haley shied away from a fix, her speech served an important purpose in warning Republican primary candidates goaded by Trump into toxic bouts of xenophobia.
While the GOP field has made a bogeyman of Muslim immigrants, Haley recalled America's tradition of welcoming legal migrants, "regardless of their race or religion."
That passage and others elicited contempt from extremists such as Ann Coulter, who suggested that "Trump should deport Nikki Haley."
Let's hope that through all such noise and fury, Haley's message was heard among Republicans on the hustings, who at Trump's impetus have made this primary season the ugliest in memory.