Donald Trump is seeking to deliver a knockout blow to Nikki Haley in New Hampshire’s Republican primary, deploying racist dog whistles against the onetime South Carolina governor as the former president ramps up his campaign schedule and hammers his rival on the airwaves.
For weeks, Trump’s campaign has treated Haley as a serious threat in New Hampshire — and the candidate himself made that clear starting Tuesday with a series of attacks on social media and at a rally in the state.
He went after Haley while referring to her first name, Nimarata, in a post on his social media platform Truth Social (though he misspelled Nimarata as Nimrada). Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa and took her husband’s last name after they married.
Trump also recently amplified a post that falsely claimed Haley was ineligible to run for president because her parents were not United States citizens at the time of her birth. Haley was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, and is a US citizen.
The attacks echo Trump’s smears against former President Barack Obama. Trump was a chief promoter of the racist lie that Obama was not born in the US and was ineligible to be president. Trump also regularly emphasizes Obama’s middle name, Hussein, at campaign rallies.
On Wednesday morning, Trump attacked Haley again, posting an altered photo of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Haley’s face superimposed on it.
The post includes Clinton’s 2016 campaign logo — a blue “H” and red arrow — but spells out “Haley” instead of “Hillary.”
The attacks on Haley are a dramatic departure from Trump’s Monday night victory speech in Iowa, where he called Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “very smart, very capable people.”
But the actions mirror the efforts of his campaign, which weeks ago homed in on Haley in New Hampshire.
Since the start of 2023, Haley and her allies have spent nearly $28.6 million on advertising in New Hampshire, while Trump and his allies have spent about $14.4 million on advertising there. But in recent weeks, the gap between Haley and Trump’s advertising has narrowed. Since the start of the new year, Haley and her allies have combined to spend about $9 million in New Hampshire, while Trump and his allies have spent about $8.5 million.
Those ads have attacked Haley on immigration, something Trump’s team views as a top issue for Republicans in New Hampshire.
“One reason was to instill a ceiling with Republicans and right-leaning independents,” a senior Trump adviser said of the ads.
Haley’s rise in New Hampshire has been aided by the state’s more moderate electorate and the outsize role independents play within the primary. Both registered Republicans and independents are allowed to vote in the GOP primary, raising concerns within the Trump campaign about left-leaning independents turning out to cast ballots against the former president.
Trump’s ads have also sought to limit Haley’s appeal to independent and left-leaning voters by highlighting her calls to reform Social Security and Medicare.
“We understand that there are going to be [left-leaning] independents who are going to be motivated just to go out and vote against Trump … but we don’t want that number to overtake the Republicans who support Trump,” the senior adviser said.
Locking up the nomination
A victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary — eight days after his dominating win in the Iowa caucuses — would accelerate Trump’s march to a third consecutive GOP presidential nomination. His campaign has its sights set on wrapping up the primary early, with landslide victories in the early-voting states and then effectively clinching the nomination by mid-March.
But Trump faces a tougher test in the Granite State, where polls show Haley, who was his US ambassador to the United Nations, within single digits of him and challenging his front-runner status there.
A recent CNN poll of the New Hampshire Republican primary found Haley trimming Trump’s lead down to single digits, winning 55% of self-identified moderate voters, while Trump secured 60% of those who identified as conservative.
During a rally in Atkinson, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Trump accused Haley of “artificially boosting her numbers” by appealing to “Democrats and liberals to infiltrate” the GOP primary.
Only Republicans and undeclared voters can participate in the New Hampshire GOP primary, and the deadline for Democrats to change their registration passed months ago. However, undeclared voters make up a plurality of the Granite State electorate — outnumbering both registered Republicans and registered Democrats.
Trump’s social media attacks and his campaign’s increased spending in New Hampshire are among many signs his team views Haley as a threat there.
His campaign has added several events to what was expected to be a relatively minimal schedule in the state ahead of the January 23 primary. The former president will now hold events in New Hampshire nearly every day until voting begins.
Trump advisers also say that they believe entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s exit from the GOP race can only benefit the former president. Ramaswamy immediately endorsed Trump after suspending his campaign Monday night following a lackluster showing in Iowa.
“We don’t know how much support (Ramaswamy) really has in New Hampshire, but every vote counts, and we believe that 98% of the votes that he would have gotten are going to come to us,” the adviser said.
Haley, meanwhile, could benefit from the support former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was registering in New Hampshire before he exited the race last week. Christie’s campaign — built around his anti-Trump message — had focused almost entirely on New Hampshire, and many polls found him in the low double digits there.
The CNN New Hampshire poll, which was conducted before Christie dropped out of the race, found that among his supporters, Haley was the clear second choice — with 65% saying they would support her were Christie not in the race. Fewer than 1 in 10 of his backers said they would choose other candidates and 13% said they would not vote.
Rather than attacking Trump directly, Haley has lumped her former boss together with President Joe Biden — taking swipes at their ages.
“The majority of Americans think that having two 80-year-olds roles running for president is not what they want,” she told a crowd Tuesday in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. “You’ve got two people who spent trillions of dollars in debt that our kids are never going to forgive us. Biden and Trump both did that.”
Haley also said she would not participate in planned debates hosted by ABC News and CNN in New Hampshire unless Trump, too, took the stage. Both debates have since been canceled.
After finishing third in Iowa, just behind DeSantis, Haley sought to dismiss the Florida governor’s chances in the GOP race moving forward — noting that she was well ahead of him in New Hampshire surveys and that he was polling poorly in South Carolina, where the February 24 Republican primary could be among the most important dates in the GOP presidential race. DeSantis traveled to South Carolina on Tuesday and is scheduled to return to the state for more events this weekend.
“Look, it really doesn’t matter to me why he went there. I’m sure he had a great time. South Carolina is a great state, but he’s in single digits in South Carolina and single digits in New Hampshire. He’s been invisible in both states,” Haley said in an interview Tuesday with CNN’s Dana Bash.
“He is not my concern. I’m going after Trump.”
CNN’s Terence Burlij, David Wright, Ariel Edwards-Levy, Ebony Davis, Kate Sullivan and Alison Main contributed to this report.
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