To undermine Haley, Trump surrounds himself with SC leaders

Three days before the New Hampshire primary, former President Donald J. Trump brought a few special guests to the stage at his biggest statewide rally of the year: a crowd of South Carolina Republicans.

In a show of force meant to undermine his main rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, the out-of-state visitors told thousands at an arena in Manchester, N.H., that they had made the trip to encourage New Hampshire voters to reject Mrs. Haley and unite behind Mr. Trump to quickly end the Republican primaries.

“We’re here for one reason,” said Gov. Henry McMaster, who succeeded Ms. Haley in the governor’s mansion, in a thick Southern drawl. He then quoted the Spice Girls: “We’re here to tell you what we want in South Carolina, what we really, really want.”

In another election cycle, the scene might qualify as bizarre: a handful of out-of-towners whose primaries won’t be held for another month are telling New Hampshire residents, who pride themselves on their “live free or die” independence, to heed their call to end the race for the Republican nomination before it even reaches their state.

And the audience was willing to listen. Mr. McMaster ended his speech by shouting: “New Hampshire is for Trump. South Carolina is too. See you at the finish line!” A man in the crowd shouted back, “God bless South Carolina!”

A traveling pack of South Carolina Republicans offered strong evidence of the challenge facing Ms. Haley and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida as they try to gain a foothold in the race after Mr. Trump’s decisive victory in Iowa. The Trump campaign hopes the display will add to his momentum ahead of Tuesday’s vote and highlight Ms Haley’s lack of support in her home state.

Mr. Trump and his team are eager to get both Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis out of the race ahead of the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary, hoping to avoid what could otherwise be a costly delegate battle that would stretch into March.

“We’ll be there in three weeks,” Trump said. “So you know what I do? I kiss ass.”

Since his landslide victory in Iowa, Mr. Trump has argued that his rivals are so unlikely to suspend their campaigns so he and the Republican Party can focus on defeating President Biden in November.

“We’re going to have another election on Tuesday, but after that, when Trump wins in a landslide, we have to get behind him,” said Representative William Timmons, one of the South Carolina leaders who came to New Hampshire after the rally.

To him and Mr. McMaster was joined at the rally by South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, Pamela Evette; Alan Wilson, Attorney General; Curtis Loftis, Treasurer; Murrell Smith, President of the Statehouse; and two other congressmen from the state, Joe Wilson and Russell Fry.

The visits could humiliate Ms. Haley and further undermine her case for the nomination by illustrating how isolated she appears to be in her home state, where the Republican primary will be held on February 24. And a South Carolina group supporting Mr. Trump will be followed on Saturday by junior state Sen. Tim Scott, who endorsed Mr. Trump on Friday in Concord, NH.

Ms. Haley is not without support in South Carolina, where she was governor from 2011 to 2017, when Mr. Trump nominated her to be ambassador to the United Nations. He has the support of Rep. Ralph Norman and Katon Dawson, the former Republican state chairman, along with a small number of South Carolina lawmakers.

When asked on the campaign trail in Peterborough, NH, about Mr. McMaster’s campaign with Mr. Trump, Ms. Haley shot back, “I’m sorry, is that the person I ran for governor against and beat? Just check.” Ms. Haley defeated Mr. McMaster in the 2010 primaries, and he immediately endorsed her.

She also suggested that her inability to win high-profile supporters both in her home state and in Washington stemmed from her willingness to pressure state lawmakers and veto their pet projects while governor, along with her criticism of Congress in during the campaign.

“If Donald Trump wants all his politicians, and they all want to go to him, they can do it,” Ms Haley said. “But that’s all I’m fighting against.”

Ms. Haley’s path to the nomination likely hinges on winning or a close second in New Hampshire, where independent voters make up 40 percent of the electorate. Although Mr. Trump maintains a large lead in the polls, Ms. Haley has recently narrowed that lead, effectively making the race a two-way contest in the state.

But Ms. Haley would have to follow up a strong performance in New Hampshire with another in South Carolina, where Mr. Trump enjoys a large number of loyal followers. He leads the polls in South Carolina by a wide margin, where he can count on the support of Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally.

On the campaign trail Saturday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Mr. DeSantis was asked about South Carolina’s elected officials endorsing Mr. Trump. “Iowa Republican leadership stood behind me, and we came in second,” said Mr. DeSantis to reporters. “So I think there’s a limit to what leadership can do.”

As the New Hampshire primary draws closer, Mr. Trump has escalated and sharpened his attacks on Ms. Haley. He now often claims that while she did an adequate job in his administration, she doesn’t have what it takes to lead on her own.

“She is not presidential material,” Mr. Trump said bluntly on Friday in Concord.

Mr. Trump has also repeatedly sought to backtrack on his past praise of Ms. Haley, often claiming that he appointed her ambassador to the United Nations only to pave the way for Mr. McMaster to become governor.

Jazmine Ulloa and Nicholas Nehamas contributed to the reporting.

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