‘Ironic’: Haley Criticizes Trump for Engineering a Skewed Primary Process

Nikki Haley on Wednesday blasted Donald J. Trump for his backroom effort to twist delegate and primary rules in his favor, calling it “ironic” that a former president who fueled lies about his 2020 election loss was now trying to “bully” his way to the 2024 Republican nomination.

“It’s ironic for somebody who says that the election was stolen from him — he’s now showing that he’s going to bully his way through to try and win this election,” Ms. Haley said in an interview on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

She went on to say that the reason he was trying so hard to win the election was because he needed “to get off all these court issues that he’s dealing with.” “And I think Americans need to see this for what it is,” she said.

The rebuke is among the sharpest attacks Ms. Haley has aimed at Mr. Trump yet, as she has taken a more pugnacious approach toward her former boss, seeking to oust him from his perch atop the Republican nominating contest.

After perhaps her worst result in the contest so far — finishing second to “None of These Candidates” on Tuesday in Nevada’s primary, in which Mr. Trump was not competing — Ms. Haley has kept amping up her criticism of her rival — and her own party.

In Los Angeles on Wednesday evening, Ms. Haley opened with her now-standard attacks on Mr. Trump, slamming him for a “temper tantrum” in response to her second-place finish in New Hampshire, the campaign money he has spent on personal legal fees and his support from the Republican establishment.

“When someone runs for president, this is supposed to be a story of addition, you’re supposed to be bringing people in, not pushing people out of your car,” she told roughly 300 people seated in an elegant theater inside an Egyptian Revival-style building home to the Hollywood Post 43 chapter of the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization.

Next week will mark a year since Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador in Mr. Trump’s administration, began her campaign, she said. In that time, “we’ve been able to defeat a dozen other fellas,” she said, adding, “we got one more left.”

In the Nevada primary one day earlier, Ms. Haley finished behind a “None of These Candidates” option on the ballot. She will technically win the contest anyway, as state election law says that “only votes cast for the named candidates shall be counted.” But the confounding result denied her even a symbolic victory. Ms. Haley’s team has long said she did not spend any time or money in Nevada after the state party changed the rules to favor Mr. Trump, deciding to award all of the state’s 26 delegates to the winner of a caucus scheduled for Thursday.

Mr. Trump needled Ms. Haley for her performance on social media, calling the result a “bad night” for her. In a Trump campaign email, Steven Cheung, a spokesman, called it “brutal” and contended that the Haley campaign acknowledged it had “intentionally disrespected the people of Nevada” by refusing to campaign there.

But in a one-on-one interview in a dining hall in the basement of the American Legion building, Ms. Haley dismissed claims that the Nevada loss was significant and unloaded on her own party, painting the day not as bad for her, but for Republicans.

Ms. Haley cast her party as mired in the same disorder that surrounds the man who has remade it in his image. She pointed to a series of events that all happened in the hours before her second-place finish: Republican setbacks in Congress over a border security bill; news that Ronna McDaniel plans to step down as chairwoman of the Republican National Committee; and an appeals court’s rejection of Mr. Trump’s claim that he is immune from prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election results.

“Donald Trump has his fingerprints on all of it,” she said, adding that “everything he touches ends up in chaos.”

She continued, “How much more chaos are Republicans willing to put up with? How many more times do we have to lose?”

As she has done on the campaign trail and in national interviews this week, Ms. Haley also criticized Mr. Trump for holding up a border security deal.

“I think it was wrong for President Trump to say we’re going to wait until the election because it would hurt him,” she said. “We can’t wait one more day.”

Ms. Haley went on to project confidence that she would stay in the race until Super Tuesday, on March 5. She remains far behind Mr. Trump in most state and national polls and is facing tough math as she looks to draw the support of 1,215 G.O.P. delegates. It does not help that Mr. Trump’s allies have worked behind the scenes to skew primary and delegate rules to his advantage.

In California, a Super Tuesday state, she is down by more than 50 points in surveys and Republicans have adopted a set of rules that will give all 169 of its delegates to the candidate who draws 50 percent of the vote statewide — a threshold only Mr. Trump has cleared in polls.

Nevertheless, onstage in Los Angeles, Ms. Haley told the audience she wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m in this for the long haul,” she said to applause. “And this is going to be messy, and this going to hurt, and it’s going to leave some bruises, but at the end of the day, I don’t mind taking them, if you will go right along with me.”

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