Trump insinuates that Haley’s husband was deployed to Africa to escape her

Former President Donald J. Trump continued his aggressive attacks on Nikki Haley on Saturday, insinuating at a rally in South Carolina that her National Guard husband had gone on a deployment to escape her.

“What happened to her husband? Where is he?” Mr. Trump told the crowd in Conway, SC. ​​”He’s gone.”

He then paused, before adding suggestively, “He knew. He knew.”

Mr. Trump’s comments, made in Ms. Haley’s home state two weeks before the Republican primary, are a sharp turn in an escalating barrage of attacks on her as he seeks to oust her from the race in the Republican primary. Although he has spent weeks criticizing Ms. Haley’s political views and making vague criticisms of her lack of presidential temperament, he has refrained from making specific personal slurs.

Later in his speech in South Carolina, Mr Trump – who for months has referred to Ms Haley as “bird brain” without explanation – called her “brain dead”, criticizing her position in national polls.

Ms. Haley’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but she posted a comment on X it referred to the absence of her husband, Michael, from the campaign trail.

“Michael is deployed to serve our country, which you know nothing about. “Someone who consistently disrespects the sacrifices of military families has no business being commander in chief,” she wrote.

Ms. Haley’s husband is currently serving a voluntary, one-year tour of duty in Africa that began last June. He is stationed at Camp Lemonnier, a sprawling military base in Djibouti. Mr. Trump’s comments followed a growing focus on the issue among right-wing media figures who support the former president.

Although he is currently overseas, Mr. Haley has been a regular presence in Ms. Haley’s messages in her bid for the nomination. In her speech, she describes him as one of her reasons for running, often describing his struggles after returning from a war zone and suggesting that his work has informed her views on foreign policy and immigration

“The other candidates are sitting there saying I’m a warmonger,” she said last year at a community center in Treynor, Iowa, where a restored U.S. Army helicopter hangs in tribute to the 114th Aviation Company in Vinh Long, South Vietnam. “Are you kidding? My husband is in the military. The last thing I want him to do is fight. This is about preventing war. We should always try to prevent war.”

In interviews with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr. Haley often comes up as a reason for their support. Wives and mothers with spouses or children in the military usually relate to the difficult experience of caring for and rarely seeing their loved ones. Retired military officers see her as someone who might better understand their plight.

Both Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump share, to some degree, the absence of their spouses on the campaign trail. Melania Trump, the former first lady, did not join Mr. Trump at the events, nor was she by his side during his court appearances.

Mr Trump’s attacks on Ms Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, came after his campaign had for weeks pursued a strategy aimed at humiliating her in her home state.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump reiterated that he nominated her as ambassador to the United Nations only to pave the way for her successor, Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed Mr. Trump shortly after he launched his 2024 campaign.

Ms. Haley also stepped up her criticism of Mr. Trump, especially as her path to the Republican nomination narrowed and she became his only main challenger. She recently attacked Mr. Trump in light of a special counsel report that questioned President Biden’s mental acuity over his handling of classified documents.

At a campaign stop in South Carolina on Saturday, she doubled down on her urgent calls for Republicans not to overlook Mr. Trump’s own age and mental challenges, warning without evidence that Democrats appear to want to replace Mr. Biden and that Republicans should “wake up,” too.

In Newberry, SC, her campaign staff handed out mock mental competency worksheets with questions that the sheets suggested Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden will not pass. Ms. Haley told reporters that she had not taken the test but would be happy to do so.

Haley’s campaign also paid for a mobile billboard to troll the former president around the Myrtle Beach area, including near his event in Conway.

Mr. Trump has also called for cognitive tests on presidential candidates, part of his months-long strategy to attack Mr. Biden’s mental acuity.

On Saturday, he hit back at Ms. Haley’s attack on her. “I don’t think Nikki would pass the test,” he said. “Not really.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York.

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