Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is stepping up her attacks on former President Trump as she faces the most critical moment of her campaign in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Haley trails Trump in the Granite State by a relatively smaller margin than in other states, making it the most likely contest for her to score an upset against the front-runner.
In a sign of the primary’s importance to Haley, she has dropped whatever reluctance she had previously to criticizing her former boss, warning voters against choosing him as their nominee on Tuesday.
“The reality is who lost the House for us? Who lost the Senate? Who lost the White House? Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump,” Haley said Thursday.
Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley listens to students during a campaign stop at the Polaris Charter School, Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Haley’s comments come as the former president has increasingly targeted her in the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, referring to her as “unelectable” and accusing her of wanting to cut Social Security.
“There are multiple instances where we need to start asking Donald Trump the questions and stop taking what he’s saying to be golden,” Haley responded during an interview with “Fox and Friends” on Friday.
Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire presents a tighter race, with The Hill/Decision Desk HQ polling average showing Trump leading Haley by 10 points. On top of that, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who came in second to Trump in Iowa, has largely prioritized South Carolina over New Hampshire. DeSantis made campaign stops in New Hampshire this week and committed to the debates scheduled in the state.
“It has just been a full-on assault,” said Matt Bartlett, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist. “That is absolutely penetrating with base Republican voters, MAGA Republican voters, those voters that she needs in order to build a broad coalition. So she recognizes that and she’s responding.”
But New Hampshire strategists also argue the recent back-and-forth between Trump and Haley was “inevitable.”
“At some point, you’ve got to contrast or die,” said Jim Merrill, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist. “You’re trying to make your final argument to New Hampshire voters: Vote for me, not him. Here’s why.”
Haley’s recent attacks on the former president are some of the strongest she’s deployed since the beginning of the campaign. Like most of Trump’s other rivals, his former U.N. ambassador has been forced to walk a fine line between contrasting herself with Trump and attacking him head-on.
“It is always a difficult thing to go against Trump because his base is so loyal to him and there’s probably nothing that you can tell them that they have not heard over the past eight years from either Democrats or the media,” Bartlett said. “So it is critical in how you confront him and how you contrast with him, that you are working with a net and bringing people in as opposed to turning them off and pushing them away.”
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Haley has also taken to attacking the former president over his electability against President Biden, pointing to polls that show her leading Biden. A Marist University survey released Friday shows Biden beating Trump and DeSantis in head-to-head match-ups in New Hampshire, while Haley defeats Biden 47 percent to 44 percent among the state’s voters.
Haley’s allies argue Trump’s increased attacks on her are a sign he views her as a threat.
“After losing New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and again in 2020 to Joe Biden, Donald Trump is nervous and attacking Nikki Haley with lies,” said Brittany Yanick, a spokesperson for the pro-Haley super PAC SFA Fund Inc.
“On Tuesday, Granite Staters have a choice — voters can either roll the dice on Donald Trump or pick the candidate who will finish the border wall, protect Social Security, and strongly defeat Joe Biden in 2024: Nikki Haley,” Yanick added.
Haley received criticism earlier this week from New Hampshire political observers who say she hasn’t taken on enough events in the Granite State since the Iowa caucuses wrapped up.
“Voters are desperate and eager to see Nikki Haley,” Bartlett said. “I can’t tell you how many friends and neighbors were asking me, ‘Where can I go see Nikki?’”
But on Friday, Haley made stops in Newfields, Hampton, Manchester, Amherst and Milford after her campaign announced the events Thursday. Additionally, her campaign announced get-out-the-vote events Friday in Keene, Peterborough, Rindge and Nashua. On Saturday, Haley will hold a rally in Exeter with television judge Judy Sheindlin.
Haley also took part in Thursday’s CNN town hall from New Hampshire.
“She kept a much more robust schedule [Friday]. It’s clear to me that they’re trying to build a groundswell of late, breaking momentum with the governor’s help to push her over the top on Tuesday,” Merrill said, adding that Haley’s campaign has been consistently “carpet-bombing” New Hampshire voters with mailers.
“She’s really the only campaign doing it,” he said.
New Hampshire observers, as well as Haley’s critics, were also left scratching their heads after she said she would not participate in a debate unless Trump or Biden were present, leading to the cancellation of the upcoming ABC News/WMUR-TV and CNN debates in New Hampshire.
“The state’s political insiders are absolutely up in arms over this,” Bartlett said. “People feel as though she missed a strategic opportunity to get in front of New Hampshire voters at a very critical time especially got somebody who rose, in part, due to her debate performances.”
During a campaign stop at a quintessential, 1950s-style New Hampshire diner in Amherst on Friday, Haley was asked whether she would attribute a poor performance in New Hampshire to former Trump’s refusal to debate her.
“I think the reason [Trump] gets behind a screen and hits me is because he doesn’t want to get on a debate stage,” Haley told reporters at Mary Anne’s Diner.
“He knows I know him very well. He knows I know what his lies are. He knows that I know when he says something, I know why he’s saying it. I know when he’s insecure. I know when he mouths off because he has nothing else to say. He’s been doing all of that. So why would he want to get on a debate stage with me?”
Bartlett added that the move by Haley’s campaign may not end up having a make-or-break impact on primary day, though.
“I question how many votes will end up being changed because of it, but it’s one of those things where there was only an apparent upside, and for somebody who is running behind to not take that will truly question further judgment around her efforts in the final days here,” he said.
Merrill called Haley’s decision to skip the debates “a calculated risk” but understandable in part given “the ugly nature of the prior one with just her and DeSantis.”
“You’ve got to fill in that gap of if you’re not going to get an earned media bump from that, where do you get it from?” he said.
Cate Martel contributed.