Nikki Haley hammers Trump on fondness for dictators as South Carolina primary nears

Nikki Haley is fully on the offensive as she stares down the quickly approaching South Carolina primary, now less than one week away.

The former UN ambassador was on the Sunday show circuit this weekend as her campaign continues events through her home state and maintains that she will stay in the race through March — no matter what happens this coming Saturday.

On ABC’s This Week, Ms Haley attacked her opponent once again for his comments about Nato. The former president made an off-colour remark at a rally in the state on 10 February wherein he seemed to invite Russia to attack any Nato member-state deemed to be making insufficient contributions to its own national defence.

“[W]hen you hear Donald Trump say in South Carolina a week ago that he would encourage Putin to invade our allies if they weren’t pulling their weight, that’s bone chilling because all he did in that one moment was empower Putin,” said Ms Haley. “And all he did in that moment was he sided with a guy that kills his political opponents, he sided with a thug that arrests American journalists and holds them hostage.”

Those comments, she argued, were part of the favouritism Mr Trump has shown Vladimir Putin and the Russian government throughout his political career. After Russian agents were found to have worked against his political opponent Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US presidential election, Mr Trump would go on to declare at a joint press conference with Mr Putin that he accepted Russia’s explanation of its supposed innocence — despite the conclusions of the US intelligence community.

Ms Haley contended in the interview that the pro-Russia sentiment her opponent exhibits was playing into his lack of acknowledgement of the death on Friday of Alexei Navalny, Mr Putin’s leading opposition figure, in a Russian prison.

“It’s actually pretty amazing that he … would encourage Putin to invade Nato, but the fact that he won’t acknowledge anything with Navalny; either he sides with Putin and thinks it’s cool that Putin killed one of his political opponents or he just doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal,” said Ms Haley.

“Either one of those is concerning. Either one of those is a problem.”

She had also, a day prior, demanded that Mr Trump “answer” for Mr Navalny’s death at a press conference at a campaign event where she asked the rhetorical question: “Why does he always side with dictators?”

“Trump needs to answer to that. Does he think Putin killed him? Does he think Putin was right to kill him? And does he think Navalny was a hero?” she asked.

Technically, Mr Trump did acknowledge the death of Mr Navalny on Sunday; but in a way only he could. A “re-Truthed” post on the former president’s Truth Social feed Sunday morning highlighted a memo declaring that Mr Navalny’s past treatment and eventual death in Russian captivity highlighted the injustice of Mr Trump’s own situation.

In normal times, it would be pretty damning criticism for a former president to take, especially coming from their own former ambassador to the United Nations. But Donald Trump has up until now largely remained impervious to any criticism lobbed his way by rivals for the Republican nomination. Heading into the final week of campaigning in South Carolina, Mr Trump is leading Ms Haley by anywhere from 20-40 points according to polling, and has shown no signs of losing his dominant share of the Republican electorate so far.

Still, Ms Haley has vowed to stay in the race through Super Tuesday, a collection of primary contests held on 5 March. This past week, her campaign travelled to Texas where it announced a $1m fundraising haul after a two-rally swing through the state.

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