Trump, Haley hold dueling campaign events in South Carolina Saturday

CONWAY, S.C. (WCBD)- Former President Donald Trump and former Gov. Nikki Haley both held rallies in South Carolina on Saturday, marking the first time the two have simultaneously campaigned in the state during the 2024 presidential cycle.  

“I’m thrilled to be back in this beautiful state,” Trump said as he took the stage in Conway.

Thousands of people, donning ‘Make America Great Again’ inspired attire, packed the HTC Center at Coastal Carolina University for Trump’s first rally in the Palmetto State since last September.

The venue, Horry County, is a deeply conservative pocket of the state where Trump won nearly half the vote in the heavily contested 2016 Republican presidential primary, a performance he hopes to repeat in 2024.

Trump’s event came exactly two weeks before the state’s GOP primary in which he holds a 32-point lead over Haley, according to polling averages from Decision Desk HQ/The Hill.

“She’s got like zero chance,” Trump said of Haley as he painted her as a “globalist” and warmonger throughout his remarks.

Trump has also landed endorsements from nearly all statewide Republican elected officials, including Sens. Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott — who is rumored to be on Trump’s shortlist for vice president.

During the rally, he showered the South Carolina politicians in attendance with praise, including Rep. Russell Fry (SC-06), Rep. Nancy Mace (SC-01), Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, and Gov. Henry McMaster.

Trump claimed that he selected Haley to serve as United Nations Ambassador in 2017 only so that he could make McMaster — her second-in-command — the state’s governor.

“She did a job. She was fine. She was okay. But I didn’t put her there because I wanted her there at the United Nations,” he said. “I wanted to take your lieutenant governor, who is right here, and make him governor.”

Many Republicans in South Carolina and beyond have called on Haley to drop out of the race and coalesce around Trump, who has notched commanding victories in each of the early nominating contests.

But that mounting pressure hasn’t seemed to faze Haley, who unleashed her own attacks on the former president at a rally nearly 200 miles away.

As kicked off her ‘Beast of the Southeast’ two-week bus tour in Newberry, she portrayed Trump as an erratic and self-absorbed figure not focused on the American people

She pointed to the way he flexed his influence over the Republican Party this past week, successfully pressuring GOP lawmakers in Washington to reject a bipartisan border security deal and publicly pressed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to consider leaving her job.

“What is happening?” Haley said. “On that day of all those losses, he had his fingerprints all over it,” she added.

She also reprised her questions of Trump’s mental fitness, an attack she has sharpened since a Jan. 19 speech in which he repeatedly confused her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Why do we have to have someone in their 80s run for office?” she asked, referring to 77-year-old Trump and 81-year-old Biden.

A person in the crowd shouted out: “Because they’re grumpy old men!”

“They are grumpy old men,” Haley said.

Though Haley’s scrutiny of Trump’s age has intensified in recent weeks, her calls for a new generation of leadership within the party emerged early in the campaign.

Since launching her White House bid a year ago, Haley has called Washington the “most privileged nursing home in the county” and proposed mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75.

Trump concurred Saturday that “anyone running for president should have [cognitive] tests”, but the show of agreement was shortlived.

“I don’t think Nikki would pass the test,” he said seconds later. “I really don’t.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.