As Primary Looms, Haley Challenges Trump in Her Home of South Carolina

CONWAY, South carolina — With two weeks to go before the South Carolina Republican primary, Nikki Haley is trying to challenge Donald Trump on her home turf while the former president tries to quash his last major rival’s narrow path to the nomination. 

Trump, turning his campaign focus to the southern state days after an easy victory in Nevada, is expected to rev up his supporters at a Saturday afternoon rally in Conway, near Myrtle Beach. 

On his way in, Trump stopped and briefly spoke to an overflow crowd gathered outside and thanked South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, who endorsed him early. McMaster became governor in 2017 when Trump appointed Haley to be his ambassador to the United Nations. 

“It was more important to get Henry McMaster to be governor than it was to have her in the United Nations,” Trump said, referring to Haley without mentioning her name. “And he did a much better job.” 

Trump, who has long been the front-runner in the GOP presidential race, won three states in a row and is looking to use South Carolina’s February 24 primary to close out Haley’s chances and turn his focus fully on an expected rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden in the general election. 

Haley skipped the Nevada caucuses, condemning the contest as rigged for Trump, and she has instead focused on South Carolina, kicking off a two-week bus tour across the state where she served as governor from 2011 to 2017. 

‘They’re grumpy old men!’

Speaking to about a couple hundred people gathered outside a historic opera house in Newberry, Haley on Saturday portrayed Trump as an erratic and self-absorbed figure not focused on the American people. 

She pointed to the way he flexed his influence over the Republican Party this past week, successfully pressuring GOP lawmakers in Washington to reject a bipartisan border security deal and publicly pressed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to consider leaving her job. 

“What is happening?” Haley said. “On that day of all those losses, he had his fingerprints all over it,” she added. 

Haley reprised her questions of Trump’s mental fitness, an attack she has sharpened since a January 19 speech in which he repeatedly confused her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Haley, 52, has called throughout her campaign for mental competency tests for politicians, a way to contrast with 77-year-old Trump and 81-year-old Biden. 

“Why do we have to have someone in their 80s run for office?” she asked. “Why can’t they let go of their power?” 

A person in the crowd shouted out: “Because they’re grumpy old men!” 

“They are grumpy old men,” Haley said. 

Haley continued the argument when speaking to reporters afterward, citing a report released Thursday by the special counsel investigating Biden’s possession of classified documents. The report described Biden’s memory as “poor.” 

“American can do better than two 80-year-olds for president,” Haley said. 

Harlie O’Connell, a longtime South Carolina resident who backs Haley, said she is excited to vote in the presidential primary for a woman from her home state. 

While O’Connell plans to support the eventual GOP nominee, she said she would prefer someone younger. 

“It’s just time for some fresh blood,” O’Connell said. 

Her husband, Mike O’Connell, credited Haley for bringing major manufacturers such as Volvo and Samsung to the state while she was governor, bringing jobs and investment. He drew a contrast between the candidates’ approach to foreign policy and said he wants the U.S. to continue assisting Ukraine in its war with Russia, as Haley has pledged. 

“We need to encourage friendships and not discourage them,” he said of international relations. 

Bob Pollard, a retired firefighter, said Haley showed “level-headedness” that Trump lacks in the way she responded to the 2015 shooting at a Charleston church in which a white supremacist killed nine Black members of the congregation. 

Pollard said he cannot support Trump because “he’s a maniac,” adding that Trump’s campaign, in which he speaks frequently of “retribution” and his personal grievances, has “turned into a personal vendetta.” 

Trump ‘here to help us’

In Conway, people began lining up to see Trump hours before the doors opened to the arena where he was set to take the stage later. 

Organizers expecting a capacity crowd set up screens outside where an overflow crowd would be able to watch Trump’s appearance. 

The city sits along the Grand Strand, a broad expanse of South Carolina’s northern coast that is home to Myrtle Beach and Horry County, one of the most reliably conservative spots in the state and a central area of Trump’s base of support in the state in his past campaigns. 

Tim Carter, from nearby Murrells Inlet, said he had backed Trump since 2016 and would do so again this year. 

“We’re here to stand for Trump, get our economy better, shut our border down, more jobs for our people,” said Carter, a pastor and military veteran who runs an addiction recovery ministry. 

Cheryl Savage from Conway, who was waiting on the bleachers to hear from Trump, said the former president is “here to help us.” Savage said she backed Haley during her first run for governor in 2010 but now feels she is hurting herself by staying in the race. 

“He deserves a second term,” Savage said, of Trump. “He did a fantastic job for four years.” 

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