CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - During a convention that began in Charlotte and ended at the nation’s capital, the state of South Carolina somehow took center stage on the first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention.
Official business kicked off in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday morning.
But it was the lineup of speakers less than 12 hours later that pulled the spotlight across the state line.
On the first of four nights of the 2020 RNC, former S.C. Governor Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina headlined a long list of Republicans from across the country.
Haley, one of the few former members of the Trump administration speaking at the convention, opened with lessons learned from her time spent serving the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations.
“The U.N. is not for the faint of heart. It’s a place where dictators, murderers, and thieves denounce America, and then put their hands out and demand that we pay their bills,” said Haley, who praised President Donald Trump for his foreign policy record.
“This president has a record of strength and success. The former vice president has a record of weakness and failure. Joe Biden is good for Iran and ISIS, great for Communist China, and he’s a godsend to everyone who wants America to apologize, abstain, and abandon our values.”
On a dime, Haley’s speech then turned to the current unrest across the country and her personal experience growing up in a Indian household.
“I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a brown girl in a Black and white world,” she said.
Haley spoke about the ‘discrimination and hardship’ her family faced before outlining the barriers she broke throughout her career in politics.
“My parents never gave into grievance and hate. My mom built a successful business. My dad taught 30 years at a historically Black college. And the people of South Carolina chose me as their first minority and first female governor,” send Haley.
She drew a stark difference between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“There is one more important area where our president is right,” said Haley. “He knows that political correctness and cancel culture are dangerous, and just plain wrong. In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country.”
She doubled down drawing from her experience as Governor of South Carolina.
“Our state came face to face with evil. A white supremacist walked into Mother Emmanuel Church during bible study. Twelve African-Americans pulled up a chair and prayed with him for an hour. Then he began to shoot.,” said Haley describing the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.
“After that horrific tragedy, we didn’t turn against each other,” said Haley. “We came together, Black and white, Democrat and Republican. Together we made the hard choices needed to heal, and removed a divisive symbol peacefully and respectfully.”
Haley worked hard to contrast Trump with Biden, claiming that if the former vice president is elected in November, he would be doing the bidding of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Bernie Sanders and the progressive members of “the Squad.”
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina closed out the first night of the convention by immediately highlighting the current unrest across the country.
“From a global pandemic, to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, 2020 has tested our nation in ways we haven’t seen for decades,” said Scott, leading into his speech.
Scott said while Trump and Biden are the two presidential candidates on the ballot in November, the election is “about the promise of America.”
Scott brought viewers back to his days before running for Congress in 2010.
He started his own business and worked in local government before deciding to run against the ‘son of our legendary Senator, Strom Thurmond’ in Charleston, South Carolina.
“You may be asking yourself how does a poor black kid...from a single parent household...run and win a race in a crowded Republican primary against a Thurmond?” questioned Scott. “The voters judged me on the content of my character, not the color of my skin.”
"We live in a world that only wants you to believe in the bad news, racially, economically and culturally-polarizing news.
“The truth is, our nation’s arc always bends back towards fairness. We are not fully where we want to be, but I thank God almighty we are not where we used to be,” he said.
The message of striving to be better, continued progress and equality were clear in both speeches from Haley and Scott.
A signal of a more inclusive Republican Party from two rising stars.
Scott recounted Biden’s past comments on Black Americans and his efforts spearheading the 1994 crime bill. He also praised the president’s efforts on criminal justice reform and providing more funding for historically Black colleges and universities.
“We have work to do,” said Scott. “I believe in the goodness of America...the promise that all men, and all women are created equal.”
Dr. Scott Huffmon, a professor of political science at Winthrop University, spoke to WBTV in a Zoom interview Tuesday night. He said he thought that Haley and Scott had the best speeches from the first night of the RNC.
“There is no doubt that the two best speakers of the night were Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, but those were two of the positive speeches amid a lot of negativity,” said Huffmon. “They are both people of color, and they have done extremely well in the Republican Party here in South Carolina and a lot of us who know their stories intimately, kind of forget.”
The professor noted that the Republican Party allowing Haley and Scott to speak about their upbringings at the convention may be a way for the party to appeal to moderates.
“Both Nikki Haley and Tim Scott giving their very moving backgrounds about their experiences dealing with racism as children, I think helped them (the GOP) push that message,” said Huffmon.
He noted that both elected leaders could be a part of future political campaigns. Huffmon said he believes Haley will make a run at the presidency in 2024.
“Nikki Haley’s gonna be in the mix in 2024. Where Tim Scott is, frankly, is gonna be completely up to Tim Scott at this point because he’s got the gas to go where he wants,” said the professor.
Huffmon said he also thinks that Haley and Scott rising to further prominence could benefit the state with regards to primary elections.
“We’re ‘First in the South’ and if we can have prominent South Carolinians, I think that’d help us keep the argument that we should remain ‘First in the South’ presidential primary for both parties,” explained Huffmon.