ATLANTA (AP) — Donald Trump used his social media platform Friday to mock Nikki Haley 's birth name, the latest example of the former president keying on race and ethnicity to attack people of color, especially his political rivals.
In a post on his Truth Social account, Trump repeatedly referred to Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, as “Nimbra.” Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, as Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. She has always gone by her middle name, “Nikki.” She took the surname “Haley” upon her marriage in 1996.
Trump, himself the son, grandson and twice the husband of immigrants, called Haley “Nimbra” three times in the post and said she “doesn't have what it takes.”
The attack comes four days before the New Hampshire primary, in which Haley is trying to establish herself as the only viable Trump alternative in the Republicans' 2024 nominating contest.
Trump's post was an escalation of recent attacks in which he referenced Haley's given first name — though he's misspelled it “Nimrada” — and falsely asserted she is ineligible for the presidency because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born in 1972.
The attacks echo Trump's “birther” rhetoric against President Barack Obama. Trump spent years pushing the conspiracy theory that the nation's first Black president was born in Kenya and not a “natural born” U.S. citizen as required by the Constitution. That effort was part of Trump's rise among Republicans' most culturally conservative base ahead of his 2016 election that surprised much of the U.S. political establishment.
Haley has dismissed Trump's latest attacks as proof that she threatens his bid for a third consecutive nomination.
“I’ll let people decide what he means by his attacks,” Haley told reporters in New Hampshire on Friday when asked about Trump’s false assertions that her heritage disqualifies her from the Oval Office. “What we know is, look, he’s clearly insecure if he goes and does these temper tantrums, if he’s spending millions of dollars on TV. He’s insecure, he knows that something’s wrong.”
Trump’s campaign did not reply to an inquiry about his comments.
Since Monday's Iowa caucuses — which Trump won by 30 points over Ron DeSantis, who placed second — Haley has aimed to portray the rest of the GOP primary battle as a two-way race between Trump and herself despite her narrow third-place finish. Haley's campaign is aiming for a stronger showing in New Hampshire, hoping for a springboard into her home state South Carolina, which holds the South's first presidential primary next month.
For his part, Trump bounces between declarations that the nominating fight is already effectively over and blasting Haley as if the two are indeed locked in a tight contest. Trump still criticizes his other remaining rival, DeSantis, but his preferred pejoratives for the Florida governor, “Ron DeSanctimonious” or “Ron DeSanctus,” have nothing to do with race or ethnicity. DeSantis is white.
Trump’s focus on Haley's name comes as far-right online forums have for months been littered with mentions of her given name alongside racist commentary and false “birther” claims. Haley's name and family background also have become talking points on the left. Some widely circulating social media posts have called her a hypocrite for saying America was “never a racist country” when she likely experienced racism herself.
Pastor Darrell Scott, a Black man who has led a diversity coalition for Trump’s previous campaigns, defended the former president's latest attacks as “slings and arrows” that come in election season.
“You have to dissect politics as politics. It’s not personal,” said Scott. “He’s not intending to demean her or degrade her in any way. He’s just doing that to garner votes.”
Scott said Trump “has a compassionate side that most people don't see” and defended his aggressive approach as a “goose-and-gander situation” for a public figure constantly “under attack for everything.”
Tara Setmayer, senior adviser to the Lincoln Project group that opposes Trump from within the conservative movement, agreed that Trump’s rhetoric works in a Republican primary. But she said that’s a damning reality for the party and does not excuse his behavior.
“These are the rantings of an incredibly, almost pathetically insecure man who has demonstrated over his entire career his racism and bigotry,” said Setmayer, who is multiracial and calls herself a former Republican and now a conservative independent. “Why would anyone expect it to be any different now, when an entire political party has enabled this level of morally questionable behavior?”
Amid the fallout Friday, Trump won the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican and formerly a presidential candidate himself. Haley appointed Scott to the Senate in 2012, during her first term as governor.
Trump has a long history of using race, ethnicity and immigrant heritage as a cudgel.
For years, he has referred to Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama,” putting an obvious emphasis on the 44th president's middle name. Obama was the son of a white American mother and a Black father from Kenya. He was born in Hawaii, though Trump spent years asserting Obama had manufactured the story and a birth certificate to support it. Trump eventually admitted his claims were false but then, during the 2016 general election, said he did so only to “get on with the campaign.”
When David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, encouraged Republican primary voters to back Trump in 2016, Trump responded in a CNN interview that he knew “nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists.”
Trump is also among many Republicans who deliberately mispronounce Vice President Kamala Harris's name. Rather than the correct “KA'-ma-la,” Trump sometimes says, “Ka-MAH-la.” Harris, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, is the first woman to become vice president and the third non-white person as either president or vice president, following Obama and Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover's vice president who had Native American ancestry.
Leading up to Trump’s 2017 inauguration, civil rights icon John Lewis, then a Black congressman from Georgia, said he would not attend Trump’s inauguration because he considered him an illegitimate president. Trump reacted by blasting Lewis’s Atlanta-based district as being in “horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” The district includes downtown Atlanta, Coca-Cola’s world headquarters, the Georgia Institute of Technology and principal sites of the 1996 Olympic Games, among other attributes.
During his presidency, Trump questioned during a meeting with lawmakers why the U.S. would accept immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” across Africa instead of countries like Norway. He did not explicitly mention race but the White House followed disclosure of his comments with a statement explaining that Trump supported granting access to the U.S. for “those who can contribute to our society.”
He also has said that four congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime infested” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and three were born in the U.S.
Trump's mother was born Mary Anne MacLeod in Scotland and came to the United States between the two world wars. His paternal grandfather, Frederick Trump, was a Bavarian-born immigrant from Germany in the 1880s. Trump's first wife, Ivana Zelníčková before their marriage, was born in what is now the Czech Republic. His third wife, former first lady Melania Trump, was born Melanija Knavs in what is now Slovenia. That means four of Trump's five children also are children of immigrants.
Haley frames her family's story as proof that the U.S. “is not a racist country.” She sometimes highlights her role in taking down the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina statehouse grounds after a racist massacre in her state — though she had sidestepped requests to remove the banner earlier in her term. And Haley has for years navigated Trump's penchant for racist rhetoric.
“I will not stop until we fight a man that chooses not to disavow the KKK,” Haley said during the 2016 primary campaign after she had endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over Trump. “That is not a part of our party; that is not who we want as president.”
Associated Press reporters Ali Swenson in Washington and Holly Ramer in Amherst, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Vice President Kamala Harris is the third nonwhite person to serve as either president or vice president