Nikki Haley Challenging Donald Trump 'Took Courage,' White House Says

PHOTO: South Carolina Governor and moderator of the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd, Sept. 18, 2015, in Greenville, South Carolina.PlaySean Rayford/Getty Images
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's decision to go after the divisive rhetoric championed by fellow Republican Donald Trump among others "took courage,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

"She was willing to do something that a lot of other Republicans, leading Republicans, have been unwilling to do, which is to actually articulate a commitment to some core American values that some leading Republican presidential candidates are speaking out against -- or at least speaking in a way that contradicts those values,” Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One today.

“Her willingness to stand up and speak out against that took some courage, and it was rather conspicuous given the willingness of a lot of other leading Republicans to either ignore it or to try to sweep it under the rug. And in some cases we’ve seen leading Republicans been totally co-opted by it,” he added.

Earnest said the White House still won’t agree with Haley on all issues, but added “her willingness to stand up for some important principles was noted and it took courage, and for that she deserves credit.”

On Tuesday, Haley delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address, using the opportunity to assail those using divisive rhetoric -– a veiled swipe at Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation,” Haley said.

Her speech came shortly after President Obama took his own veiled swipe at Trump in the State of the Union when he warned of "voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don't look like us or pray like us or vote like we do or share the same background."

In a phone interview with MSNBC Wednesday, Trump came out swinging against Haley, saying she was “weak on immigration” and arguing he’s not worried he made an enemy out of the governor of an early primary state.

“South Carolina is one of my strongest states,” he said.