Donald Trump took the battle for the Republican nomination to Nikki Haley’s home turf Saturday — and the former South Carolina governor was up for the fight.
The former president hurled personal attacks at Haley throughout an afternoon Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, most notably questioning the whereabouts of her husband, Maj. Michael Haley, who is serving an active duty deployment in the Horn of Africa for the South Carolina Army National Guard.
“Where’s her husband? Oh, he’s away. He’s away,” Trump said, appearing to imply Haley was having challenges in her marriage that would explain her husband’s absence. “What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone.”
At her separate rally in Gilbert, South Carolina, Haley addressed Trump’s comments head on, and again challenged the former president to a debate.
“I need to start with the fact that Donald Trump had a rally today, and in that rally, he mocked my husband’s military service,” she began.
“I have long talked about the fact that we need to have mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75. Donald Trump claims that he would pass that — maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But if you mock the service of a combat veteran, you don’t deserve a driver’s license, let alone being President of the United States.”
Haley’s husband also responded with a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing a photo of a wolf: “The difference between humans and animals? Animals would never allow the dumbest ones to lead the pack.”
The fiery back and forth comes as the Trump campaign seeks to pummel Haley in her home state in this month’s fast-approaching primary. Haley has also turned up the heat against Trump as her path toward the GOP nomination narrows and she remains his last remaining competitor. She later fundraised off Trump’s attack.
With just two weeks to go, Trump is turning his attention to the Palmetto State after an easy victory in Nevada. He returned to a familiar set of tactics by leaning into personal attacks on Saturday, referring to Haley as “birdbrain” and claiming that he only chose her to serve as his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations so that he could make Henry McMaster, who endorsed Trump early, the governor of South Carolina.
Also during his Saturday rally, Trump ramped up his attacks on NATO, saying that he would urge Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to any member country that doesn’t, in his view, spend enough on their own defense.
“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?,’” Trump said during the rally. “I said, ‘You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent.’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”
The White House seized on these remarks, blasting them as “appalling and unhinged.”
“Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged — and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
POLITICO report last month revealed that Trump had told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 2020 that the U.S. wouldn’t come to Europe’s defense if it was attacked.
Trump alleged NATO countries subsequently spent “billions and billions” of dollars on their defenses in the wake of his threat — a claim that has not been substantiated.
Trump’s comments on NATO and Haley’s husband’s military service quickly set social media alight. It remains to be seen how they will affect polling in military-friendly South Carolina after the dust settles on this latest escalation in the scorched earth campaign for the Republican nomination.