Trump and his MAGA allies turn their fire on Haley

Trump and his MAGA allies turn their fire on Haley

Donald Trump’s political operation is seeking to bury Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign just days before voting starts.

The former president’s campaign is spending millions of dollars on TV ads attacking Haley for the first time. His allies and social media influencers are ramping up efforts to savage her. And at his rally in Iowa on Friday night, Trump lit into her more sharply than at any prior point in the primary.

It’s a major shift in focus nine days before the Iowa caucus.

After spending the last year focusing almost exclusively on tearing down Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Trump apparatus has determined that Haley now requires a greater share of its resources than he does. Trump allies increasingly view the former South Carolina governor — and Trump’s onetime U.N. ambassador — as the last obstacle on his path to the nomination.

“President Trump has long said he’d train his sights on whomever is number two in the race,” Jason Miller, a Trump adviser, told POLITICO. “Rob DeSanctimonious is approaching single digits everywhere and his campaign is on life support, which means it’s Nikki Haley’s turn in the barrel.”

The ex-president has grown his double-digit leads in Republican primary polling and is the strong favorite to become the nominee. Yet there is increasingly a belief among Trump allies that a Haley second-place finish in the Jan. 15 Iowa caucus could give her momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary a week later. Trump advisers say they are looking to impose a ceiling on how much support she can win in the Granite State, where she is Trump’s closest-polling rival.

Haley’s poll numbers ticked up in the aftermath of her widely praised debate performances this fall, and she has continued to make gains in national and early state polling. She has surpassed DeSantis — who had long been seen as Trump’s most formidable rival 00 for second place in some national and early-state polls.

Trump’s campaign for the first time this week began airing TV ads against Haley in New Hampshire, claiming that Haley opposed Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border. Its allied super PAC, MAGA Inc., is running a separate commercial in the state accusing Haley of supporting a gas tax increase during her tenure as South Carolina governor, a hit Haley has said mischaracterizes her record. The two outfits are spending a combined $4.5 million on anti-Haley commercials. Neither is currently running commercials targeting DeSantis.

Trump is also taking on Haley directly. At back-to-back rallies Friday night in Iowa, Trump accused his former U.N. ambassador of being a “globalist” under the control of Wall Street donors, while mocking her widely panned answer on the root cause of the Civil War.

“Nikki Haley has been in the pocket of the open borders, establishment donors her entire career and she’s a globalist,” Trump said. “She likes the globe. I like America first.”

“I hope you enjoy her little quips like, how did the Civil War start? ‘Well, it had to do with government,’” Trump said, channeling Haley. “No, it was slavery. You know I never wanted to pile on, but you’ll find out about Nikki.”

In another indication of the shift in focus, the Trump campaign had been regularly sending out emails to reporters, under the subject line “Kiss of Death,” attacking DeSantis. But starting late last month, the “Kiss of Death” emails began to focus on Haley.

Trump’s expansive army of online supporters is also turning its attention to Haley. Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon told POLITICO his “War Room” podcast, which is widely listened to among staunch supporters of the former president, will now solely target Haley.

“Nikki was always the vessel the donor class wanted to stop Trump and MAGA,” Bannon said.

Alex Bruesewitz, a pro-Trump social media activist, has meanwhile begun using his feed on X, formerly known as Twitter, to go after Haley — such as on Friday, when he posted a meme likening her to Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Trump’s 2016 opponent. Bruesewitz for the last year has been mostly devoted to going after DeSantis, and he said in an interview that he would continue targeting the Florida governor and his supporters for “sport.”

But with Haley rising — and DeSantis fading — in the polls, Bruesewitz said he is increasingly focused on her.

“There is a ton of ammo out there that has not been fired yet,” Bruesewitz said.

Haley’s campaign has taken note of the recent uptick in Trump attacks. Ahead of Trump’s speeches in Iowa, Haley campaign spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas preempted the former president’s attacks by sending reporters a fact-check on her immigration record.

“Donald Trump must be seeing the same Nikki momentum that we’re seeing,” Perez-Cubas said in a statement. “Why else spend millions in false ads attacking her? It’s clear this is a two-person race between Nikki and Trump.”

Trump’s team says it will still find opportunities to target DeSantis, with some allies arguing the Florida governor has more potential to draw from the ex-president’s base. In his Friday speeches, Trump continued to derisively use the “DeSanctus” nickname he has given him.

“Ron, well, you’ve got to have a little personality,” Trump said. “You need a personality still, and there’s not a lot of personality there. You need a personality to charm foreign leaders.”

But the main target has shifted, with Trump and his MAGA supporters seizing on everything — from Haley’s Civil War remarks to a clip this week of her in an Iowa PBS interview saying “you change personalities” between early states.

Haley was responding to a question about whether she would change the order of the GOP nominating contests, as President Joe Biden did on the Democratic side this year. “We want it to stay the way that it was,” Haley said. “Iowa starts it. You change personalities. You go into New Hampshire, and they continue it on.”

For Trump’s supporters, the slip presented another opportunity to pile on. New Hampshire-based MAGA Inc. spokesperson Karoline Leavitt reposted the clip on X, writing: “Nikki Haley just opened the door to 2nd place for [Chris Christie] in New Hampshire.”

Lisa Kashinsky contributed to this report.

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