WASHINGTON (AP) — Nikki Haley’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are ratcheting up their attacks on her as Iowa’s first-in-the-nation voting draws closer.
The barbed news releases, attack ads and amped up back-and-forth come as the former South Carolina governor and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis battle for a distant second place to former President Donald Trump with less than two weeks until Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.
For months, Trump has trained his focus on DeSantis, who has long argued that he’s the party’s best chance at unseating Trump from atop the field. But in recent weeks, Trump’s campaign has increasingly shifted its target to Haley, calling her a “sellout” and criticizing her stances on taxes and the U.S.-Mexico border.
Her campaign on Thursday said Trump’s attention to Haley, who served as his United Nations ambassador, reflects his concern that she is gaining on him.
DeSantis, who is preparing to face off against Haley next week in their first one-on-one debate, jumped on Haley, too, for telling a roomful of likely voters Wednesday night in New Hampshire — the first-in-the-nation GOP primary state — that they would have the opportunity to “correct” the decision made by Iowa caucusgoers. The comment could signal that she not only doesn’t expect to win Iowa but that she doesn’t expect to place second to DeSantis.
“You know, Iowa starts it,” said Haley. “You know that you correct it … and then my sweet state of South Carolina brings it home.”
DeSantis’ campaign called Haley’s comments “insulting” to Iowa voters. In a radio interview Thursday, he said her characterization was “disrespectful.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has endorsed DeSantis, posted on X, “I trust Iowans to make their own decisions. No ‘corrections’ needed!”
DeSantis has also been critical of Haley’s omission last week of slavery when a voter asked her about the causes of the Civil War — a response she walked back 12 hours later.
“You know, I noticed that Nikki Haley has had some problems with some basic American history,” DeSantis said last week in Iowa.
Trump’s conservative allies have recirculated an old clip of the then-South Carolina governor urging an audience not to reference people who entered the U.S. illegally as “criminals.” Those comments came a month after Trump’s 2015 launch speech, in which he said immigrants from Mexico are bringing drugs and crime with them.
Make America Great Again Inc., Trump’s super PAC, sent out a release blasting Haley’s 2015 border comments — without pointing out when they occurred. In her presidential campaign, Haley has argued for more border security, visiting the U.S.-Mexico border and arguing that “we need to do whatever it takes to actually stop this inflow of illegal immigrants.”
On Wednesday, Trump’s campaign went up with an ad characterizing Haley as weak on immigration and lumping her in with President Joe Biden in opposing Trump’s commitment to a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In response, Haley’s campaign sent out a fact check, pointing out that she had said in 2015 that more than a wall was needed to secure the border and that, as governor, she had fought to implement E-Verify. That program required South Carolina employers to substantiate workers’ permission to work legally in the state — something she has pledged to take nationwide if elected president.
Haley’s campaign said Trump’s increasing focus on her showed that he was getting nervous.
“Donald Trump must be seeing the same Nikki momentum we’re seeing, and he’s clearly threatened,” spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said. “This is a two-person race between Nikki and Trump.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.