MASON CITY, Iowa — Former President Donald Trump ramped up his attacks on former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley at back-to-back campaign events in Iowa this weekend as his campaign sought to halt her ascent a little more than a week before the caucuses that will launch the primary season.
In a new ad and in his speeches Friday, Trump suggested that Haley would adopt policies that would lead to open borders and mocked her recent comments about the Civil War as well as her decision to run for president.
“She doesn’t have what it takes,” Trump told the crowd. “I know her very well.”
Trump, who remains the dominant Republican polling leader, has spent much of the primary season targeting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and kept up that drumbeat of attacks on Friday night. But the speeches in Mason City and Sioux Center marked a clear escalation of his attacks on Haley, whose poll numbers have surged in New Hampshire, and where she notched the endorsement of the state’s GOP Gov. Chris Sununu. Until recently, Trump had largely ignored Haley, beyond insulting her by calling her “birdbrain.”
In Friday’s speeches, he went through a point-by-point critique of Haley’s record on immigration, entitlement retooling and taxes while suggesting she is relying on liberals and Biden supporters to fund her campaign. Trump’s advisers have signaled that more attacks are coming as the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary draws closer.
Trump’s sharpest critiques of Haley on Friday night focused on the border, a theme his campaign outlined in a recent New Hampshire ad.
“Nikki opposed my border wall, she condemned my strong border policies and in 2016 she stabbed the Republican Party in the back,” he said Friday. Trump also described Haley as being “in the pocket of the open borders establishment donors for her entire career now.”
Trump faulted Haley for raising objections to a policy that he originally framed as a “Muslim ban” during his 2016 campaign. The proposal ultimately became an executive order that he issued as president barring travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Haley did object to that initial framing during Trump’s early days in the White House in 2017.
The Trump campaign pointed to news articles from 2015 quoting Haley as saying that Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States was “un-American,” “unconstitutional” and defied “everything that this country was based on.” Her campaign has said she objected to bans on travelers to the United States on the basis of religion, noting that she later defended Trump’s revised travel ban when she became his ambassador to the UN.
“Haley was combating illegal immigration long before Donald Trump rode down that famous escalator,” said Nachama Soloveichik, Haley’s communications director. “If Trump feels so strongly about his false attacks, he should stop hiding and defend them on the debate stage in Des Moines.”
In late October, Haley and her allied super PAC, SFA Inc., began dominating the airwaves in New Hampshire media markets — outspending all the other candidates and their allied groups. But ad spending by the Trump campaign and MAGA Inc., the super PAC supporting him, shot up at the end of December and is now matching the spending of Haley’s effort, according to data from AdImpact.
Trump’s campaign also sent out so-called “Kiss of Death” emails about DeSantis for months. But starting in late December, the campaign began focusing on Haley in those emails. Trump’s advisers have argued that voters in New Hampshire and Iowa are just learning about Haley’s record and would soon learn that she would “open the borders and empty your wallets.”
DeSantis and his allied groups have had no presence on the airwaves in New Hampshire since mid-November after he retooled his campaign to focus on Iowa.
Trump’s ad suggested that Haley’s immigration policies would be lax and similar to those of the Biden administration, suggesting her leadership would put the United States in “grave danger.” The Haley campaign has argued that his immigration attacks show he is “terrified” of Haley’s momentum in the race and argued that she signed one of the toughest immigration laws in the country as governor of South Carolina in 2011.
The ad states that Haley did not support his effort to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Haley’s campaign has said that attack is false — and that she did support building the wall, but only as part of the solution to the nation’s immigration problems. She argued that there needed to be a commitment of ground troops, equipment and money to be serious about tackling illegal immigration.
Trump also hit Haley on Friday evening for her recent suggestions that New Hampshire would “correct” Iowa’s decision, saying to his supporters “her record shows that she is one who needs to be corrected … and there’s nobody better to do that than the people of Iowa, just vote against her.” He also joined the chorus of criticism after she was asked in New Hampshire about the cause of the Civil War and did not mention slavery. Haley has since said that her comments about Iowa were made in jest and that “of course, the Civil War was about slavery.”
“She didn’t use the word slavery, which was interesting,” Trump said. “I don’t know that it’s going to have an impact but you know I’d say slavery is sort of the obvious answer.”
Maeve Reston contributed to this report.