Trump was joined at a rally at the NHU Arena in Manchester on Saturday night by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, the state's lieutenant governor and a slew of other senior officials, including the state's attorney general, treasurer and House speaker. The statewide officials, along with U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson, William Timmons and Russell Fry appeared on stage with Trump.
“Almost every politician from South Carolina is endorsing me,” Trump declared.
The South Carolinians urged the voters to carry Trump to a win in New Hampshire before the contest moves to their state and its decisive early contest set for next month.
“If you do that and you win by a big margin here, we’ll finish the job in South Carolina,” said Murrell Smith, the speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
The appearances are yet another blow from South Carolina against Haley, who is hoping her appeal among independent and unaffiliated voters will propel her to a strong enough finish in New Hampshire to turn the race into a two-person contest against Trump.
On Friday, the former president and GOP front-runner received the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who joined him at a rally in Concord. Scott dropped his own bid for the Republican nomination in November. A dozen years ago, Haley, then serving as governor of their state, elevated Scott from the House by appointing him as senator, making him one of the nation’s most prominent Black Republicans.
McMaster and other top officials had already endorsed Trump. Haley has a famously fractious relationship with many of her state’s Republican power brokers even as she was twice elected governor — defeating McMaster in the GOP primary the first time.
Her response on Saturday made clear she hadn't forgotten that rivalry.
“I’m sorry, is that the person I ran against for governor and beat?” she asked. “Just checking.”
Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney also brushed off the appearances at an event hosted by Bloomberg News, insisting endorsements had “never been Nikki’s game.”
Trump on Saturday night repeatedly railed against Haley and New Hampshire's voting laws, which allow unaffiliated voters to participate in either the Republican or Democratic primary. The state's more moderate electorate is expected to make the contest much closer than it was in leadoff Iowa, which is considered more conservative.
“Don’t listen to polls. Get out and vote. We need a big big win against these terrible people,” Trump said.
Haley, meanwhile, highlighted on Saturday a gaffe Trump made at his rally the night before.
Trump repeatedly suggested Haley had been in charge of keeping the Capitol secure on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building to try to stop his election loss from being certified. Haley was not at the Capitol that day. And Trump has consistently downplayed his administration's failure to keep the Capitol safe or his delay in trying to call off the rioters.
“They’re saying he got confused. That he was talking about something else, that he was talking about Nancy Pelosi," Haley said. “When you’re dealing with the pressures of a presidency, we can’t have someone else where we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this.”
Trump, 77, has repeatedly tried to suggest 81-year-old President Joe Biden is not sharp enough to be president and on Saturday sought to defend his own mental acuity. He again bragged of having “aced” a cognitive test he took while president — a test that is, in fact, intended to test for early dementia and other cognitive impairment.
“I don't mind being 80 but I'm 77. That's a big difference," he said.
He added a few minutes later: “I feel my mind is stronger now than it was 25 years ago."
After the rally, Reps. Timmons and Fry called on Haley to leave the race ahead of the South Carolina primary next month.
“We’re gonna have another election on Tuesday. But after that, when Trump wins, overwhelmingly, we've to get behind him,” Timmons said.
Even with their state’s top elected Republicans and much of the congressional delegation in New Hampshire to advocate for Trump this week, some South Carolina voters were undeterred about backing other candidates.
“I’m a strong Republican, and I just vote Republican because I think they have a lot in common with supporting the United States and the regular citizens of the United States,” said Sandra Chase, following an event for GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis in Lexington, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon.
DeSantis, coming off a second-place finish in leadoff Iowa, has shifted some of his focus away from New Hampshire, where the state's independent voters are seen to provide more of an opening for Haley. He's instead been campaigning this weekend in South Carolina.
Chase said she had previously backed Trump but wanted to go in a different direction this year.
“I just want to pick the best candidate, and I think the best candidate is Ron DeSantis,” she said. “But I mean, everybody is allowed to support whoever they want to support.”
AP National Politics Writer Steve Peoples in Keene, New Hampshire, reporter Meg Kinnard in Lexington, South Carolina, and Associated Press video journalist Joe Frederick in Peterborough, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.