Nikki Haley, battling attacks from Donald J. Trump that she is too liberal and accusations from Ron DeSantis that she was hiding from voters and reporters, fought back Thursday, answering questions and defending her conservative credentials.
“That’s the problem with the Republican Party now: They want to push out anyone who doesn’t fit their narrative,” she told reporters in Hollis, New Hampshire, when asked about her opponents’ posts describing her as in the pocket of Democratic donors. “I’ve told the Republican Party over and over again: We’ve lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president because you keep pushing people away. »
Asked about Mr. Trump’s plans to claim that his White House nomination would cost Republicans down the ballot, Ms. Haley told reporters that “Americans are not stupid.”
“The reality is: who lost the House for us? Who lost the Senate? Who lost the White House? Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump,” she said.
The back-and-forth appeared to be a dry run for his CNN town hall Thursday night, days before next week’s New Hampshire primary. It was also a rare moment for Ms. Haley on the runway.
Ms. Haley, 51, a former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador under Mr. Trump, ran a tightly controlled campaign. Although she has held hundreds of events in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, she has held about a half-dozen press conferences since August, including “gaggles”, where journalists who follow her on the track can ask questions.
In recent weeks, she had stopped taking questions from voters at her events in Iowa and New Hampshire, frustrating some attendees, particularly in New Hampshire, where voters tend to want to hear from candidates and weigh their decisions until the very end.
Mr. DeSantis, her main rival for second place, seized on this sense of estrangement, with his campaign calling her a “bubble-wrapped candidate” in a recent email.
“Even if she can, you can’t try to hide for this nomination – and Nikki Haley continues to be denounced for caving to the left on every issue important to conservatives,” the email sent by Andrew Romeo said, the chairman of the board of directors. campaign communications director.
On a conservative radio show, “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” Thursday morning, Mr. DeSantis criticized Ms. Haley for refusing to debate after announcing this week that she would no longer participate in primary debates that do not include Mr. Trump . . With a wide lead in most polls, the former president has so far skipped all primary debates.
“I am the only one not yet leading a campaign in the basements,” he maintained. on the show. “Biden is running an underground campaign. Trump will not debate, will not answer voters’ questions. And now Haley will no longer debate or answer questions from voters.
During recent events in New Hampshire, some voters expressed concern that his refusal to engage with the public could hurt his chances there. Many wondered whether the move followed the wave of negative press Ms. Haley received in December when a constituent asked her to explain the causes of the Civil War and she failed to mention slavery.
Nelia Tefft, an unaffiliated voter from Center Conway, N.H., who drove two hours through a snowstorm to attend her Monday rally in Bretton Woods, said she was surprised Ms. Haley did not respond to questions as she had done during her previous events, before standing up. in the polls.
“Then she was always there taking pictures with people,” she said of Ms. Haley. “I was a little disappointed. I like to see her in action, responding spontaneously and she does it well most of the time, except during the Civil War I guess.
Ms. Haley’s schedule through Thursday was light, with only one public event per day. His plans for the New Hampshire strain I took a little detour Tuesday evening as she returned to South Carolina after her father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, was hospitalized with cancer, a campaign spokeswoman confirmed. He is said to be in stable condition.
For the most part, the small, insular nature of Ms. Haley’s campaign helped build a reputation as a disciplined operation. Her top advisers tend to avoid reporters, and her campaign officials and allies say that — unlike her opponents’ campaigns — Ms. Haley’s campaign has not been troubled by leaks.
But in Rochester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday evening, Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who supported her, tried to limit the damage. He argued that her decision to remove the questions would not hurt her with her state’s voters and that she did it because she wanted to spend more time “taking selfies” and shaking hands one-on-one, he said.
“People come up to him all the time and ask him questions,” he said.
In Hollis, New Hampshire, on Thursday morning, Ms. Haley took three questions from an audience of more than 200 people, allowing her to respond to some of Mr. Trump’s frequent attacks against her. .
She hit back at Mr. Trump’s attacks on her record and again warned voters that it was the reason Republicans “lost the midterm elections.”
“In five days we will shock the country,” she said.
Afterward, she told reporters that she was not concerned about Mr. DeSantis overtaking her in her home state of South Carolina because he had moved much of his staff there. “We are focused on Trump,” she said.
But when asked whether Mr. Trump was still qualified to be president if convicted, she dodged. “It’s more than that: Do you think the American people are going to vote for someone who has been convicted?” she asked, saying they were more concerned about the economy, education and the state of the world. “I’m going to beat him so we never have to wonder, ‘Are we going to elect a convicted felon?'”