Haley continues to chart course away from Trump

Haley continues to chart course away from Trump

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley declined Sunday to affirm that she would support Donald Trump if he were to become the GOP nominee for president again — her latest dig at the former president as she steadily sharpens her attacks against him heading into her home state’s primary.

Speaking to host Jonathan Karl on ABC’s “This Week,” the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador said multiple times that her sole concern is defeating Trump in the Republican primary.

“I’m running against him because I don’t think he should be president,” she said. “The last thing on my mind is who I’m going to support. The only thing on my mind is how we’re going to win this.”

When Karl tried to pin down Haley, she declined to say one way or the other.

“I’m going to run and I’m going to win, and y’all can talk about support later. Right now you can ask him if he’s going to support me when I’m the nominee,” she said.

While not a full-blown reversal, it does reflect changed rhetoric from the former South Carolina governor, the lone high-profile Republican still in the race, who previously said she would back Trump if he were to win the then-crowded primary.

“I would support him because I am not going to have a President Kamala Harris. We can’t afford that. That is not going to happen,” she said on CNBC in July 2023. At the first GOP debate in August, Haley was one of the contenders who raised their hands to say she would back Trump (who was not at the debate) if he emerged from the primary process as the nominee. Even as she has ratcheted up her criticism of Trump during the campaign season, she has not directly reversed her position on that matter.

While she continues to attack the Biden administration on just about every issue, she has become more unsparing in her views on her GOP foe.

During the interview with Karl, Haley was sharply critical of President Joe Biden for the state of the world today, but also aimed her fire at Trump, particularly for his recent remarks that were seen as undermining the NATO alliance as well as his attempts to stock the leadership of the Republican National Committee with close allies, including Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law.

“It should be a wake-up call for Republicans all over this country,” Haley told Karl. “I mean, you look at the fact that we saw in his campaign reports that he used $50 million of campaign contributions to pay for his personal court cases. Then he tried to get the RNC to name him the presumptive nominee. We don’t anoint kings in America.”

The next Republican primary is to be held in South Carolina, Haley’s home state, on Feb. 24.

Sunday’s interview was something of a greatest hits collection for Haley, featuring many of her current leading lines of attack against the former president, particularly when it comes to what Trump has said (or not said) about Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose leading foe Alexei Navalny unexpectedly died last week, a death that much of the world is assuming was ordered by Putin.

“We need to remind the American people that Vladimir Putin is not our friend,” she said. “Vladimir Putin is not cool. This is not someone we want to associate with. This is not someone that we want to be friends with. This is not someone that we can trust. And so when you hear Donald Trump say in South Carolina a week ago that he would encourage Putin to invade our allies if they weren’t pulling their weight, that’s bone-chilling, because all he did in that one moment was empower Putin.”

She also noted that Trump has been silent on the matter of Navalny’s death.

“Either he sides with Putin and thinks it’s cool that Putin killed one of his political opponents or he just doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal. Either one of those is concerning. Either one of those is a problem,” she said.

Later at a Fox News town hall in South Carolina, she pursued that line of attack about Navalny. “Donald Trump needs to answer whether he thinks Putin is responsible for Navalny,” she said.

Haley — and most of the GOP field, save for former Govs. Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson — largely avoided landing direct blows on Trump in the early months of the primary, focusing instead on Biden (or bickering with each other), as Trump soared in the polls.

But with only her and Trump remaining from the pool of well-known candidates, Haley has turned up the heat —attempting to capitalize on Trump’s behavior and legal woes.

“Donald Trump is in court today. There will be a verdict on another case tomorrow. And he has a trial starting March 25. Meanwhile, he’s spending millions of campaign donations on legal fees,” Haley posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday, as a judge blocked Trump’s attempt to toss some of the dozens of charges he is facing. “All of this chaos will only lead to more losses for Republicans up and down the ticket.”

In a new ad out Tuesday, Haley’s campaign warned of the “chaos” that will ensue if he’s elected president again. And then she doubled down, telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday morning: “An unhinged president is an unsafe president.”

Haley has gone after Trump for his age — slamming him for confusing her with Democratic Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, and trolling him and Biden with a billboard campaign stitching together clips of the two candidates trailing off and otherwise appearing confused during recent public remarks.

When Trump told a crowd of supporters that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO allies who didn’t meet defense spending requirements, Haley pounced: “NATO has been a success story for the last 75 years. But what bothers me about this is, don’t take the side of a thug, who kills his opponents. Don’t take the side of someone who has gone in and invaded a country and half a million people have died or been wounded because of Putin,” Haley said last week.

After Trump endorsed two key allies — Lara Trump and a senior campaign adviser, Chris LaCivita — for leadership roles on the Republican National Committee, Haley tied the attempt to gain a tighter grip on the party’s fundraising apparatus to Trump’s mounting legal bills.

“I don’t want the RNC to become his piggy bank for his personal court cases. We’ve already seen him spend $50 million worth of campaign contributions toward his personal court cases,” Haley told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Friday.

The attacks have yet to reflect serious positive movement on the ballot for Haley — she recently suffered a stinging blow in Nevada, where the option for “none of these candidates,” received the most votes in a primary that wouldn’t have won her any delegates anyway.

And they come with the threat of turning Trump into a long-term enemy, throwing Haley’s chance of a future as a prominent member of the modern Republican Party into question.

Haley’s campaign has playfully acknowledged the risk that comes with being on Trump’s proverbial hit list: The team is hawking shirts emblazoned with the words “barred permanently,” pulling from a Trump Truth Social post in which the former president warned Haley donors that they would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.”

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