Haley vows not to drop out, calls Trump ‘meaner and more offensive by the day’

Haley vows not to drop out, calls Trump ‘meaner and more offensive by the day’

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Nikki Haley cast herself on Tuesday as a steadfast candidate of last resort to Donald Trump, maintaining she won’t drop out “until the American people close the door.”

Delivering what her team billed as a “state of the race speech,” a defiant Haley vowed to remain in the race even as she polls far behind Trump in upcoming primaries across the map. Without offering any electoral strategy for her path forward, Haley described her candidacy as a battle for something “bigger than myself.”

And she cried as she invoked her husband’s military service, describing how he couldn’t be with her because he is deployed, and that America was worth fighting for.

Haley’s speech served as something of a raison d’être for a candidate who lost decisively to Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire and is verging on a blowout loss in South Carolina. She pledged to continue on despite calls from high-level GOP leaders for her to end her presidential bid and support him as the party’s likely nominee.

Instead, Haley unleashed a torrent of criticism against the former president, calling him a “bully” who’s “getting meaner and more offensive by the day.” She argued that Trump is “completely distracted” from the campaign as he splits his time in courtrooms. She repeated her oft-used refrains that Trump has “gotten more unstable and unhinged.” And the former U.N. ambassador painted Trump as weak on national security, bashing him for “inviting” Russian President Vladimir Putin to “invade NATO countries.”

She said she does not need Trump’s support for any future political ambitions and has nothing to lose by remaining in the race.

“I feel no need to kiss the ring,” Haley said. “And I have no fear of Trump’s retribution. I’m not looking for anything from him.”

Speaking four days before the South Carolina primary, Haley framed her run as an effort on behalf of a faction of the Republican Party that has grown tired of Trump, even if she is struck down in the process. Beyond the GOP, she said she was staying in for the “70 percent of the country” that “doesn’t want a Biden-Trump rematch.”

“I’m willing to take the cuts, the bruises and the name calling,” Haley said. “Do we really want to spend every day from now until November, watching America’s two most disliked politicians duke it out? No sane person wants that.”

She said she will be “campaigning every day until the last person votes.”

Still, even Haley acknowledged much of the media’s interest in her has been reduced to a death watch.

“Some of you — perhaps a few of you in the media — came here today to see if I’m dropping out of the race,” Haley said to reporters and roughly 50 supporters in downtown Greenville. “Well, I’m not. Far from it.”

The event, which was open to a few dozen of Haley’s close supporters, was designed for a broader televised audience and lacked the energy of a lively campaign rally. At one point, a man in the audience shouted, “The emperor has no clothes!” a likely reference to Trump, but without any clear connection to Haley’s comments at the time. Neither she nor the rest of the crowd reacted. After her remarks — and her tearful speech-ending reflection on her husband’s current deployment in Africa — Haley posed for photos with supporters before leaving without taking questions from reporters.

Haley is likely to continue to have the campaign cash to keep running through the coming weeks. Her campaign said she’s held high-dollar fundraisers around the country recently, and — before a reporting deadline Tuesday night — said January was her top fundraising month of the entire race. Some of her supporters see Trump’s legal problems as an incentive to stay in the contest, with the former president’s first criminal trial expected to start March 25 on charges stemming from hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Despite making a case against Trump, Haley continued to temper her criticism of the former president by saying that he was the “right president at the right time” and that she was “proud” to serve in his Cabinet.

“There are those who will try to paint me as never Trump. That’s not who I am, never have been,” Haley said. “My purpose has never been to stop Trump at all costs.”

And she continued to tie some of her sharpest rebukes of her former boss to similar criticisms of President Joe Biden.

“We’ve all seen them fumble their words and get confused about world leaders. That’s now who you want in the Oval Office when Russia launches a nuclear weapon at our satellites or China shuts down our electricity grid,” Haley said. “We’re talking about the most demanding job in human history. You don’t give it to someone who’s at risk of dementia.”

Haley again rejected notions that she’s running for vice president or setting up a 2028 bid, even as she polls some 30 percentage points behind Trump in her home state. A Suffolk University/USA TODAY survey released Tuesday morning showed Trump up 63 percent to 35 percent. The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted by phone from Feb. 15-18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Haley is vowing to keep campaigning past Saturday, starting with events in Michigan on Sunday. From there, Haley plans to campaign next week in half a dozen other Super Tuesday states and D.C.

Ahead of her speech on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign advisers released their own memo, referring to Haley as a “wailing loser hell-bent on an alternative reality and refusing to come to grips with her imminent political mortality.”

Haley’s campaign officials have said they believe they can win delegates in Super Tuesday states with open- or semi-open primaries in which independents can cast ballots — doubling down on the strategy that brought her within a dozen points of Trump in New Hampshire. But it left Haley short in the early state where Haley stood the best chance of beating him.

Betsy Ankney, Haley’s campaign manager, said earlier this month the campaign’s strategy includes “looking at independents and expanding the Republican electorate to people who have not traditionally participated in Republican primaries.”

Haley has continued to roll out leadership teams in at least eight of the 15 Super Tuesday states, including California and Texas, where she recently went on a fundraising swing to fuel her campaign, and Massachusetts and Vermont, two New England states with more favorable electorates that have rejected Trump by wide margins in general elections.

And in a sign her campaign is looking past the slate of 16 contests on March 5 that will award more than a third of all the GOP delegates, one of the first leadership teams Haley launched was in Washington state, which votes on March 12.

Meanwhile, her “Women for Nikki” coalition, aimed at courting women, particularly suburban voters and those who don’t typically participate in Republican primaries, boasts chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

“Dropping out would be the easy route,” Haley said. “I’ve never taken the easy route.”

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