Nikki Haley stakes her last chance to stop Donald Trump on New Hampshire

The Republican candidate has questioned the former president’s mental fitness, but after DeSantis’ withdrawal, there is a feeling that his nomination is a foregone conclusion

Nikki Haley New Hampshire
Nikki Haley at a campaign event at a school in Derry (New Hampshire) on Sunday.MICHAEL REYNOLDS (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

Nikki Haley celebrated her 52nd birthday on Saturday with beer and chocolate cake. In the middle of the campaign, she asked for voters to support her in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Haley received an early present from her main rival, former president Donald Trump, who once again confused her with Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House of Representatives. This gaffe prompted Haley to question whether the former president has the mental fitness to return to office. Haley knows she is running out of time to stop the former president and has changed her strategy.

Since her disappointing third-place result in the Iowa caucuses, the former governor of South Carolina and former ambassador to the U.N. has begun to openly attack Donald Trump. The real estate magnate swept Iowa, is poised to win New Hampshire, and appears headed for a quick victory in the Republican Party primaries. Haley is desperately campaigning to stop this from happening, but her rival’s lead in the polls has reached record levels. With the withdrawal of Ron DeSantis, who has endorsed the former president, it may widen even further.

The latest poll published by CNN on Sunday gave Trump a voting intention of 50% in New Hampshire, while Haley was polling at 39%. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who was missing in action and dropped out of the race on Sunday, was only at 6%, below the 10% minimum threshold to be awarded delegates. Trump’s advantage is also noticeable at campaign events. Most of Nikki Haley’s are modest affairs in restaurants, schools and civic centers. There are no flashy banners and, at most, she speaks to hundreds of supporters. Trump, in contrast, has been filling sports centers and theaters, and putting on dazzling shows. Neither the cold nor the snow have been able to stop his followers.

Haley gave a rally on Sunday in the library of Gilbert H. Hood School, in Derry, a charming town of about 34,000 inhabitants. Dressed in flared jeans and a white wool sweater, the candidate signed autographs and took photographs with her supporters. In her speech, she attacked Trump for confusing her with Pelosi. “Last night, Trump is at a rally and he’s going on and on mentioning me several times as to why I didn’t take security during the Capitol riots. Why I didn’t handle January 6 better. I wasn’t even in DC on January 6. I wasn’t in office then,” Haley said. “The reality is that he was confused. He was confused the same way that Joe Biden was going to start World War II. He was confused the same way that he said he ran against President Obama,” she added, recalling Trump’s latest blunders.

Trump is so popular among the Republican rank and file that the other primary candidates (with the exception of Chris Christie) at the start of the campaign hardly dared to criticize him. They even declared that they were willing to support Trump’s nomination if he were sentenced to prison. While they fought among themselves, Trump took the lead in the race. He never took part in a primary debate and spoke of the other Republican presidential hopefuls with contempt.

Trump and Biden, more of the same

Now the situation has changed. Haley is trying to lump the current president, Joe Biden, 81, and Donald Trump, 77, in the same bag. At another event on Saturday, she said that Trump represented “more of the same” and called for generational change.

”When you’re 80 years old, that’s what happens. You’re just not as sharp as you used to be,” she said, in reference to Trump. “When you’re dealing with the pressures of the presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this,” she added. “My parents are up in age, and I love them dearly but when you see them hit a certain age, there is a decline. That’s a fact, ask any doctor, there is a decline.”

Haley launched her campaign by calling for mandatory competency tests for politicians over 75. At a rally on Saturday at a sports center in Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, Trump said that he had taken a test and “aced it.” “I’ll let you know when I go bad. I really think I’ll be able to tell you,” he added. “I feel my mind is stronger now than it was 25 years ago. Is that possible?”

But even Biden took advantage of Trump’s gaffe, sharing a video of some of the former president’s biggest blunders. “I don’t agree with Nikki Haley on everything, but we agree on this much: she is not Nancy Pelosi,” he posted.

Trump, meanwhile, has launched racist and sexist attacks against Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, whose birth name is Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. The former president is the son, grandson and twice-husband of immigrants, but that hasn’t stopped him from making xenophobic remarks about his rival. Just as he did with the “birther” conspiracy theory against Barack Obama, Trump has spread false claims that Haley might not be qualified to run because she is not American. Trump has also mocked her birth name and repeatedly called her “bird brain.”

“I know President Trump well,” Haley replied on Saturday. “That’s what he does when he feels threatened. That’s what he does when he feels insecure.”

Trump appears to have broken ties with Haley, who was once touted to be his running mate. “She is not presidential timber. “Now, when I say that, that probably means that she’s not going to be chosen as the vice president,” Trump said at a campaign event on Friday.

Trump and Haley have been sparring from afar. There were no primary debates, as Trump refused to debate Haley, and she refused to do so, if he didn’t participate.

Meanwhile, the real estate magnate has been collecting the endorsements of the candidates who have dropped out of the race. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum was the first to endorse him. After his failure in the Iowa caucuses, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also backed Trump. And last Friday, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott also endorsed Trump — despite the fact that Haley appointed him senator when she was governor. South Carolina will hold its primaries in February, and Trump is already ahead in the polls. On Sunday, Ron DeSantis also endorsed Trump, even though the former president has constantly insulted and belittled him.

Not even Haley’s victory in New Hampshire may stop Trump in his race for the nomination. But if the polls hold up, and he wins again with a wide lead, it may be game over for her. The primaries of this small New England state of 1.4 million inhabitants are partially open, meaning independent voters, not affiliated with any party, can participate. Although Haley rejects the “moderate” label, it gives her a certain advantage. If independents mobilize against Trump in New Hampshire, it could be seen as a warning sign of what could happen in the November presidential election. This would reinforce her argument that she is more electable than Trump and has a better chance of winning against Biden.

Trump, however, doesn’t see it that way. On the electronic scoreboard in the Manchester arena on Saturday, the result was 45-47 — a nod at his goal to become the 45th and 47th president of the United States. And the time was 20:24, the current year. The countdown is on to find out the final score.

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