Nikki Haley is going all in on what she sees as the safest line of attack against Donald Trump — questions about his mental fitness and temperament in a year where the incumbent Democratic president is facing similar concerns.
The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador sat down with NBC’s Craig Melvin for an interview with the Today show on Tuesday as she prepares for a showdown with Mr Trump in her home state that is a litte more than a week away. The primary election in South Carolina could be a jolt in the arm of her campaign as she continues to steeply trail the frontrunner — or, it could be the death knell of her presidential bid. It could also be neither of those things, as she plods along towards Super Tuesday in March.
Ms Haley made some of her most forceful criticism of Mr Trump’s mental state yet during the interview.
“The problem now is, he is not the same person he was in 2016. He is unhinged; he is more diminished than he was, just like Joe Biden’s more diminished than what he was,” Ms Haley told NBC.
“We have to see this for what it is,” she went on. “This is a fact: he is now saying things that don't make sense.”
She contrasted Mr Trump’s mood and temperament now with what she experienced during his administration, when the former UN diplomat said that Mr Trump was responsive when his deputy came to him with concerns. Two of those concerns she named directly: his response to a white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as his pattern of rhetoric about women.
“If something was wrong ... I had a conversation with him about Charlottesville, I had a conversation about something that he would say about women, I had a conversation with him about multiple things,” said Ms Haley.
Ms Haley has made her opponent’s age an issue the same way Trump-aligned Republicans have sought to cast doubts about Mr Biden’s focus and mental clarity. Some of the ex-president’s more rabid supporters have even taken things a step further and openly suggested that the incumbent president has dementia.
Concerns about Mr Biden’s memory were energised by the release last week of a report authored by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Hur regarding the investiation into the president’s handling of classified documents. During interviews, Mr Hur described the president as severely forgetful and unable to recall details about major events from his life, including the death of his son Beau. Mr Biden would go on to angrily rebut that criticism at a press conference.
"You've got Joe Biden, where the special counsel said he was diminished, and he's not the Joe Biden he was two years ago," Ms Haley told NBC on Tuesday. "You've got a Donald Trump who's unhinged, and he's more unhinged than he ever was.”
”[W]hy are we settling for that when the country is in disarray and the world is on fire?" she aked. “We don't want these two old men running. We want someone who's going to go and fight for us and work for us, with no drama, no vendettas."
The “no vendettas” line was a clear reference to Mr Trump frequent vows of revenge against his political enemies; he has told supporters that he will direct the Justice Department to prosecute Joe Biden’s family if he is elected for a second term, and a group of conservative organisations is purportedly working on plans to seriously diminish the independence of the Justice Department to allow him to do so.
Ms Haley continues to trail Mr Trump according to all available polling, both in South Carolina and nationwide. Her campaign has begun looking ahead to primary states voting in March even as she hopes for a shock performance in her home state similar to the stronger-than-expected showing she had in New Hampshire.
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