(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump used a rally in South Carolina on Saturday to attack his rival in his home state, Nikki Haley, and mock the absence of her husband, who is stationed overseas.
“Where’s your husband? Oh, he’s away. …What happened to your husband? Where is he? He’s gone,” Trump said at a rally in Conway, his first visit to the state this year.
Michael Haley is deployed to Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard in support of US Africa Command, his second active duty deployment overseas.
Nikki Haley responded to Trump’s comments later Saturday, saying, “If you make fun of a combat veteran, you don’t deserve to have a driver’s license, let alone be president of the United States.”
“Donald, if you have something to say, don’t say it behind my back; Get on the podium and say it to my face,” he told a crowd in Gilbert, South Carolina.
In a rare move, Michael Haley hit back at the former president and posted a meme on Twitter that read: “Difference between humans and animals? “Animals will never let a fool lead the pack.” When the caption mentioned Trump’s story.
Notably, former first lady Melania Trump has not accompanied her husband to any public campaign events since his presidential declaration in November 2022 and has not accompanied him to any of his court appearances.
Trump, quiet in Republican race
After sweeping victories in the first four contests for the presidential nomination, Donald Trump is more than excited to remain in power as the Republican Party’s front-runner. The former president and his campaign are more confident than ever that he will win enough delegates to declare him the virtual Republican nominee by mid-March, months ahead of the Republican National Convention in July. Trump campaign. CNN.
Trump’s stop in South Carolina comes on the heels of a busy few days of travel. He appeared in Nevada on Thursday to declare victory at the state’s Republican caucus before traveling to Pennsylvania, where he addressed a friendly crowd at a National Rifle Association forum on Friday.
Thursday saw several positive developments for Trump, including the gift of new campaign materials against President Joe Biden following the release of a damning special counsel report. While the report did not recommend charges against Biden, it included damning language about his mishandling of classified documents and raised concerns about his memory and age.
Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court sided with Trump and tried to declare him an insurgent in Colorado and remove him from the state’s presidential ticket.
Haley has insisted she plans to stay in her home state’s Feb. 24 primary and subsequent races, buoyed by her enduring fundraising ability. But Trump and his team see the South Carolina primary as the place where they will deliver the final blow to their last major rival.
That confidence is due to Trump’s continued success in internal and public polling, which has shown him with a consistently impressive lead over Haley at the national and state levels.
That optimistic view of the rest of the 2024 primaries led the Trump campaign to take a less aggressive approach in the South Carolina primary, especially compared to the intensity of his running game and get-out-the-vote strategies in states he previously carried.
And unlike the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, when Trump and his campaign relentlessly toured states and spent millions on ads against his rivals, Trump had a comparatively light schedule in South Carolina.
Saturday’s campaign event in Conway, about 15 miles from Myrtle Beach, was Trump’s first visit to the state in 77 days. He plans to hold several more campaign events in the state before the Feb. 24 primary, but his team has taken a more relaxed approach to the race as he increasingly focuses on the upcoming general election rematch with Biden.
Trump’s advisers insist that doesn’t mean he takes South Carolina for granted.
“At the end of the day, we cannot take any state for granted. But we consider this a done deal,” a senior Trump adviser told CNN, specifically with regard to South Carolina.
Haley, against Trump’s weight in his home state
The Trump campaign’s efforts in South Carolina this year are also significantly more sophisticated than their initial presidential run in 2016, aides say, thanks in large part to the team they’ve assembled led by senior adviser Susie Wiles.
The campaign has staff spread across all 46 South Carolina counties, sent out mailers promoting Trump’s candidacy and deployed top state lawmakers and surrogates — including Gov. Henry McMaster; US Senator Tim Scott, a former presidential contender; and several senior members of the state’s congressional delegation — to attack Haley in her own backyard.
“Nikki is without a personality right now,” Justin Evans, Trump’s special projects director in South Carolina, told CNN. “Nikki represents the kind of Republicanism that Trump opposes; the entire George Bush-Karl Rove wing of the party is embodied in and represented by Nikki Haley. “This is their last gasp, and they know that if they lose , then he will have an almost impossible task of regaining some kind of foothold, not just in this election, but in the party.”
Trump escalated his attacks on Haley during his speech on Saturday, calling her “brain dead” and saying he thought the former South Carolina governor would fail a cognitive test. His statement came hours after Haley’s campaign provided evidence of mental fitness during a campaign stop in Newberry, South Carolina. Haley, 52, has questioned Trump’s mental health and called for mental capacity tests on any politician over the age of 75. Trump is 77 years old and Biden is 81 years old.
“Radical left Democrats want Nikki Haley because they know she’s easy to beat,” Trump said Saturday as he pointed to his lead in the polls.
Those comments reflect the broader vision of Trump’s campaign, which wants him to become the Republican nominee as soon as possible. According to multiple conversations with Trump advisers, he is eager to use the full weight of the Republican infrastructure, including the Republican National Committee, to begin moving in earnest toward a general election battle against Biden.
Haley, for her part, seems unaffected by the pressure. A day after losing to “any of these candidates” in Nevada’s non-binding primary on Tuesday, he held a fundraiser and rally in California, one of several Super Tuesday states he plans to contest next month, urging voters to follow him. .
In both public and private conversations, Haley has insisted she has no plans to drop out of the race anytime soon and says she is committed to running against Trump until Super Tuesday on March 5.
The former South Carolina governor has also stepped up his attacks on Trump in recent weeks, attacking his mental health and grouping him with Biden as two “angry old men.”
Biden criticized Trump for mocking Haley’s husband
President Joe Biden criticized former President Donald Trump for mocking the absence of Nikki Haley’s husband, who is stationed overseas, saying Trump “wouldn’t know how to serve his country if he was slapped.”
“The answer is that Major Haley is overseas, serving his country right now,” Biden said “that would slap him in the face.”
With reporting by CNN’s Ebony Davis and Arlette Saenz