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Donald Trump has unleashed a volley of smears at Nikki Haley as he tries to quash any lingering Republican opposition to his White House run and score a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary next week.
Trump and his allies have been ramping up personal attacks against his former UN ambassador in recent days, in addition to blasting Republican officials who support his rivals and threatening party strategists working for his opponents.
The former president handily won the first contest of the Republican nomination race in Iowa last week. He has now rolled into New Hampshire with the goal of cementing his candidacy to challenge Joe Biden in the November presidential election.
According to the polling average from Fivethirtyeight.com, Trump leads Haley in the New England state 48.9 per cent to 34.2 per cent heading into Tuesday’s vote.
On Saturday, ahead of a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump called Haley “Birdbrain” — after she had questioned his mental fitness to hold office — and accused the former South Carolina governor of being too lenient on immigration.
“She is WEAK ON THE BORDER, I AM THE STRONGEST BORDER PRESIDENT, EVER. That’s all you need to know,” he wrote on his Truth Social platform.
Haley is seeking a stronger showing in New Hampshire after her disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, betting that the New England state’s more moderate Republicans and independent voters will reject Trump.
Earlier in the week, the former president posted a montage of Haley’s face under Hillary Clinton’s hair, comparing his Republican rival to the former Democratic presidential nominee who he defeated in 2016.
He has also referred to Haley, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants, as “Nimra” — a misspelling of her birth name Nimarata — and earlier month reposted an article that falsely claimed Haley was ineligible to be president, an echo of the “birther” conspiracy theories he had pushed about Barack Obama.
“That nastiness is his campaign strategy. That’s just who he is,” said Jennifer Horn, the former chair of the Republican party in New Hampshire and a Trump critic. “We’ve also learned, just as he’s learned, that there is an extraordinary number of Republican primary voters who love the nastiness.”
“I don’t think it harms his campaign or his outcome in any way”, she added.
Some of Trump’s attacks on Haley have been incoherent. At an event in Concord, the state capital, on Friday night, Trump seemed to confuse her with Nancy Pelosi, the former Democratic House Speaker, claiming Haley had been “in charge of security” on January 6, 2021, when a mob of his supporters attacked the US Capitol to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
“This is what he does when he feels insecure. This is what he does when he feels threatened,” Haley said on Saturday in an interview with Fox News.
She also reprised her call for mental competency tests for US presidents. “Are we really going to go and have two 80-year-olds running for president . . . we need people at the top of their game,” she said.
As well as targeting Haley, Trump’s team has thrown down the gauntlet to Republican lawmakers and operatives who support his rivals.
“I think your governor sucks, I really do,” Trump told the crowd in Concord, referring to Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire governor who has endorsed Haley.
His other targets have included Jeff Roe, the Texas-based Republican strategist who worked in support of Ron DeSantis and the Florida governor’s drifting presidential campaign. Support for DeSantis has fallen to 5.2 per cent in New Hampshire, according to the Fivethirtyeight.com polling average.
According to Politico, Trump’s closest advisers have told Republican candidates for office not to hire Roe or Axiom, his political consulting arm. Roe declined to comment.
Trump’s campaign has also vowed to stop Bob Good, a Virginia lawmaker who leads the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus and endorsed DeSantis, from keeping his seat in Congress.
“Bob Good won’t be electable when we get done with him,” Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump adviser, told the Cardinal News, a newspaper in southern Virginia.
Trump’s heavy-handed pressure appeared to be producing results as he clinched a growing number of endorsements.
On Friday night, Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator who halted his own bid for president late last year, backed Trump, while Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and former 2016 Republican primary candidate, did the same earlier in the week.
Additional reporting by Alex Rogers