By Jazmine Ulloa
Newberry, South Carolina: Nikki Haley has again suggested without evidence that the Democrats would not be renominating US President Joe Biden because of questions about his age and memory, while continuing her calls to Republicans that they not overlook former president Donald Trump’s own mental competency in the 2024 presidential contest.
“I said this before, and everybody in the media lost their mind, but Joe Biden is not going to be the nominee – he is not,” she said outside an opera house in Newberry, South Carolina, where she began what is expected to be a dayslong bus tour across the state. In a later news conference, Haley added that Republicans needed to “wake up” and choose someone else as their nominee as well.
When asked what moves she believed Democrats were making to thwart Biden’s nomination, she did not offer any specifics, only saying, “I mean, there’s no way that they’re not in complete panic right now.”
The remarks from Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and a United Nations ambassador under Trump, are part of a new argument – her sharpest against Trump yet – that she unveiled this week in light of the special counsel report questioning Biden’s mental acuity over his handling of classified documents. Haley has been taking a more combative posture toward Trump as the two head into an important primary showdown in her home state on February 24.
At the stop in Newberry, a crowd of about 100 people cheered as a sleek, navy blue Nikki Haley bus arrived outside an opera house to the tune of Van Halen’s Right Now. Some attendees wore “Trump is too Chicken to debate” stickers, and campaign staff members passed out worksheets that asked respondents to draw a clock, identify animals and explain pairs of words. “Can you pass a mental competency test?” they read. “Can Joe Biden? Can Donald Trump?”
‘Why do we have to have someone in their 80s running for office?’
On the stump, Haley emphasised the state’s progress under her leadership before quickly pivoting to what has become her standard set of attacks on Trump, 77, and Biden, 81, casting both men as belonging to the same bygone era of politics, and more aggressively criticising Republicans for rallying behind the former president and his “chaos”.
“Why do we have to have someone in their 80s running for office? Why can’t they let go of the power and let a new generational leader come in there?” Haley asked, calling them “grumpy, old men.”
Haley’s most potent closing pitch has perhaps been that a majority of Americans do not want to see a Trump-Biden rematch. But her remarks on Biden feed into right-wing conspiracy theories that Democrats are plotting to remove him as their nominee. The party long ago cast its lot with the president, and there is no serious alternative in the primary race or any serious chance of changing course short of a major health calamity or drastic change of heart by the president.
Haley is also facing steep odds against Trump, who continues to dominate by double-digits in most state and national polls and has more than 80 current and former Republican officials from South Carolina endorsing his campaign, including Governor Henry McMaster and senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.
Trump is hosting his own rally in South Carolina on Sunday (AEDT), his first visit to the state this cycle. In keeping with her new pugnacious turn, Haley’s campaign has paid for a mobile billboard to troll the former president around the Myrtle Beach area, including near his event in Conway.
Her visit to Newberry was the start of her “Beast of the Southeast” bus tour across South Carolina, which was slated to make two dozen stops over the coming days, including in Haley’s hometown, Bamberg, as well as Clemson and Lexington.
Her event at the Newberry Opera House was a callback to her long-shot bid for governor in 2010. Haley had her breakout moment of that campaign there, during the first Republican debate. Just as she is now, her surrogates said, she was then an underdog who took on the establishment, challenging rivals no one thought she could beat.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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