PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — Donald Trump is moving aggressively to finish off Nikki Haley.
And he’s taking a two-pronged approach to doing it: Going after his former U.N. ambassador on policy in public remarks while launching conspiratorial, even racist broadsides against her online.
On Wednesday evening, the former president repeatedly assailed Haley, who has staked her campaign on a strong showing in the Granite State, accusing her of endangering entitlement programs, being in the pocket of donors and acting as a stalking horse for Democrats.
“As you’ve probably heard, Nikki Haley is counting on Democrats and liberals to infiltrate your Republican Primary to put her over the top in this state — which is no surprise, since her campaign is funded by Democrats,” Trump said. “If Haley wins, Biden wins.”
He insisted he only only picked her as U.N. ambassador to elevate his ally, Henry McMaster, to the South Carolina governorship by getting Haley out of that post. Haley, he added, would be “killed” by Biden in a general election matchup.
Online the attacks have nothing to do with policy – or with Biden.
In a Truth Social post, Trump promoted a false conspiracy theory that Haley is ineligible to run for office because her parents, immigrants from India, were not U.S. citizens when she was born. The post was reminiscent of the birther conspiracy that he pushed repeatedly against former President Barack Obama during the latter’s presidency.
And in another post, he referred to Haley by her first name, Nimarata, although he misspelled it as Nimrada. Haley’s name is Nimarata, but she goes by her middle name, Nikki, instead, and took her husband’s last name, Haley.
The attacks seem designed to reach two very different types of Republican audiences. But their goal is the same: Sinking Haley in next week’s New Hampshire primary and sewing up the GOP nomination early. In a sign of that focus, almost half of Wednesday’s speech excerpts sent in advance to reporters by the campaign focused on Haley.
Haley on Wednesday also kicked it up a notch, devoting a section of her longer than usual stump speech to Trump — calling out lies her former boss has told about her policy record, and taunting him for not debating her.
“He honestly thinks if he says something, it just becomes true,” Haley said, declaring she “literally never said” what Trump had attributed to her about wanting to end Social Security benefits.
Haley turned the criticism on policy issues toward him, saying Trump had once expressed support for raising the retirement age to 70, and increasing the gas tax by 25 cents.
“Those are things he needs to answer for. Oh, that’s right,” Haley said, with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “He won’t get on a debate stage.”
The former U.N. ambassador also tried to get in front of Trump’s rally earlier in the day by
releasing a new digital ad noting all the instances Trump praised her when she was in his administration. And a pro-Haley super PAC played a pair of ads, titled “Tantrum” and “Bully,” on a mobile billboard outside Trump’s event.
But Trump has a head of steam heading into the state following his lopsided win in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Two polls released on Wednesday showed him with double-digit leads over Haley in New Hampshire. The former ambassador has poured resources into the state, calculating that the state’s independent tilt presents an opportunity for her.
In New Hampshire, there is a much larger swath of self-identified independents than in other earlier primary states. On top of that, undeclared voters are allowed to vote in the Republican and Democrat primaries. However, the deadline for residents to change their party affiliation passed in early October.
Trump’s efforts to reach more moderate minded voters in New Hampshire has been evident in other ways. He and his team have launched ads in the state against Haley by strategically
placing them on channels like MSNBC, which have a more liberal viewership and the potential to reach some of the independents Haley’s campaign has appealed to in the state.
And in his speech on Wednesday night, Trump, at times, seemed to tailor his message for a state with that type of partisan makeup. He made repeated reference to Haley’s positions on Medicare and Social Security — both of which she has said need to be reformed for future generations.
“Nikki said she wants to raise the retirement age to match life expectancy, which really means that she’s talking about 77 or 78. Is everybody happy with that?” The audience yelled ‘no.’ “I didn’t think so. You’re going to work your entire life and you earned that,” Trump said. Some of Trump’s attacks evaded any type of recognition of his own record. In his prepared remarks, for example, Trump said that a Haley nomination would result in Republicans losing the White House, House and Senate. During the 2020 elections, which took place under Trump, Republicans lost the Senate and White House while failing to win back the House.
Still, the crowd loved it. Attendees packed into a Sheraton hotel waited for Trump, who ran two hours late. They hung on his lengthy diatribes and meandering asides, regaling in attack lines he’s delivered countless times before. At moments, the speech felt more like a call and response. As Trump spoke, one attendee yelled, “Lock her up!,” the slogan used to disparage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. At another, one person shouted “Bird brain!” Trump’s chosen nickname for Haley. They cheered as he disparaged their own governor, a Republican.
Bill Trujillo was among those in attendance. A private aviation employee from Lee, New Hampshire, he had left work at 1 p.m. to get to the site of the speech by 2:30 pm. Trump did not start speaking until nearly 8:30. As for Haley, he had no concerns.
“She wasn’t even on my radar,” Trujillo said. “I feel strongly no, she’s not going to win.”
This post has been updated for clarity.