Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday slammed Donald Trump and allied groups for spending more than $50 million of political contributors’ money on the former president’s legal expenses, calling the outlay “unconscionable” and arguing that Trump’s thin campaign schedule was the result of a cash crunch.
“It is unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees,” Haley told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “It explains why he’s not doing many rallies. He doesn’t have the money to do it. It explains why he doesn’t want to get on a debate stage, because he doesn’t want to talk about why he’s doing it.”
Haley also suggested that Trump’s anger after the New Hampshire primary, despite his winning it handily, is rooted in his financial situation and desire for all the donor dollars to start “going to him (so) he doesn’t have to spend anymore.”
Trump this year became the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate to win both the Iowa caucuses and Granite State primary, putting him on a mostly clear path to his third straight nomination. But Haley, the last major rival in his way, insists she plans to stay in the race and build momentum – first with a strong showing in her home state of South Carolina on February 24, and then on Super Tuesday in March.
Extending the race into next month will largely hinge on Haley’s ability to defy expectations in the Palmetto State, where she spent more than a decade as lawmaker and governor, being elected twice to state’s top office. Still, a Washington Post-Monmouth University poll out Thursday showed Trump with a 26-point lead there, 58% to 32%, with a little more than three weeks until the vote.
Asked whether she was committed to staying in the race no matter the results, Haley stopped short of a clear “yes,” but said she was confident of narrowing the contest in South Carolina, and improving on past performances as the race goes on.
“I’m not going anywhere because I don’t want my kids to live like this,” Haley said. “I don’t want anybody else’s kids to live like this. We have been in total distraction for a long time, and we know that when America’s distracted, the world is less safe.”
In a fresh boost for Haley, a new CNN poll, conducted by SSRS, found that she is currently running considerably ahead of President Joe Biden among registered voters in a national survey, leading 52% to 39% in a hypothetical matchup. Trump’s advantage against Biden was considerably smaller – 49% to 45%, just outside of the survey’s margin of error.
Haley has frequently argued that she is a better bet than Trump to defeat Biden and could help deliver congressional majorities and control of state governments to the GOP, a point she underlined here before pivoting to another frequent attack on Biden and Trump.
“The fact that we would have two 80-year-old candidates is absurd,” Haley said. “We need someone who can work eight years to get our country back on track, to heal our country.” (Trump is not yet 80, though he, like Biden, would only be eligible for one more term.)
Asked if she was concerned that repeatedly mentioning the ages of her current and potential rivals, respectively, might backfire, Haley said she believed older voters appreciated her point.
“They get it. It’s not about being disrespectful, it’s about we – this is Congress, too – we need to have people at the top of their game,” she said, adding that anyone at that age is “automatically going to be in mental decline. That’s just a fact.”
Haley also criticized Biden more directly by questioning his handling of Israel’s war in Gaza and move, revealed Thursday, to place sanctions and visa restriction on violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
“It’s unbelievable to me that Joe Biden is going sit there and focus on Israel,” Haley said.
The monthslong Israeli onslaught in Gaza has killed more than 25,000 people, according to statistics from the Hamas-run health ministry.
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