Takeaways from CNN’s New Hampshire town hall with Nikki Haley

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley participates in a CNN town hall in Henniker, New Hampshire, on January 18, 2024.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley participates in a CNN town hall in Henniker, New Hampshire, on January 18, 2024.

Nikki Haley’s goal in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary Tuesday is to “be strong,” she said at a CNN town hall Thursday night.

But the onetime South Carolina governor stopped short of saying she needs to defeat former President Donald Trump in the Granite State primary.

“What I want to do is be strong. We won’t know what strong looks like until those numbers come in,” she said at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire.

Haley said her “personal goal is to do better than we did in Iowa,” where she finished in third place, 32 points behind Trump and 2 points behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in the state’s caucuses on Monday.

Polls, however, show she is much closer to Trump in New Hampshire, where she is expected to benefit from a more moderate Republican primary electorate — with undeclared voters also able to participate in Tuesday’s contest.

Here are five takeaways from the CNN town hall, which was moderated by Jake Tapper:

Haley affirms her view that America has ‘never been a racist country’

Earlier this week, Haley was asked in a Fox News interview if she believes the Republican Party was racist, after an MSNBC host wondered whether Haley could win the GOP nomination as a woman of color. Haley answered the question more broadly, responding that America has “never been a racist country.”

During Thursday’s town hall, the former governor was asked if she stood by that answer, given the country’s history of legal racism, including slavery. Haley doubled down, saying that America was founded on the idea that all men are created equal.

“The intent was to do the right thing,” she said of the country’s founding. “Now, did they have to go fix it along the way? Yes, but I don’t think the intent was ever that we were going to be a racist country.”

On a personal level, she said that while she experienced racism growing up in rural South Carolina, her parents told her that those experiences wouldn’t define what she could achieve.

“We had plenty of racism that we had to deal with, but my parents never said we lived in a racist country, and I’m so thankful they didn’t,” Haley said. “Because for every brown and Black child out there, if you tell them they live or were born in a racist country, you’re immediately telling them they don’t have a chance.”

Haley pointed to her own achievements of becoming one of the first female minority governors in the country and later Trump’s US ambassador to the United Nations. She echoed comments she’s made on the campaign trail that too many Americans have a “national self loathing,” even though the US is not “racist” but “blessed.”

“I think it’s important that we tell all kids that, ‘Look, America is not perfect. We have our stains, we know that,’” she said. “But our goal should always be to make today better than yesterday.”

Haley participates in the CNN town hall in New Hampshire.

Haley participates in the CNN town hall in New Hampshire.

Haley takes on Trump … and Biden

Haley turned up the dial on her Trump criticism but also leavened it – this is a Republican primary after all – by frequently tying him to President Joe Biden and trying to portray the pair as twin threats to progress and national unity.

“Do we really want to have two 80-year-olds running for president when we have a country in disarray and a world on fire?” she said, before making an equivalence between Trump’s legal troubles and the controversies around Biden.

“They are so distracted by their own investigations and their own grievances,” Haley added. “We don’t need people that are distracted. We need people who love America, realize that if your time is gone, move out of the way and let a new generational leader come in.”

In this telling, Haley is the alternative not simply to Trump or Biden, but to the whole milieu of modern politics – a “generational” and temperamental change who everyone can get behind.

It’s a message that seems tailored for New Hampshire, where independents can vote in the primary, and perhaps further down the line. In all, Haley mentioned Biden nearly 20 times and Trump roughly a dozen, despite the former president being the subject of many more questions. (Also of note: Haley did not mention DeSantis once.)

Haley touted surveys that show her outperforming other Republican candidates among the broader electorate in hypothetical face-off against Biden.

“I want to bring people into the party. Because at the end of the day, we have to heal and unify as Americans,” she said.

Haley also weighed in on Trump’s recent criticism of her, accusing him of throwing a “temper tantrum” and saying he feels “threatened” and “insecure” by the challenge she poses.

“Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” she said. “We can’t continue down this path and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it. You don’t fix Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”

Responding to Trump’s racist dog whistles

Haley was asked about racist dog whistles Trump has employed against her in recent days ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

“I know President Trump well,” Haley said. “That’s what he does when he feels threatened. That’s what he does when he feels insecure.”

Earlier this month, Trump promoted a post that falsely stated that Haley wasn’t eligible to be president because “her parents were not US citizens at the time of her birth.” Haley, who was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, is a natural born citizen and eligible to run.

The baseless claim was reminiscent of the years Trump spent casting doubt on whether former President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was actually born in the US and demanding he produce his birth certificate.

Trump also referred to the former South Carolina governor as “Nikki ‘Nimrada’ Haley” in a Truth Social post, misspelling her first name Nimarata in a way some viewed as a play on the insult “nimrod.” Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, goes by her middle name Nikki and took her husband’s last name after they married.

Haley on Thursday dismissed the comments as “name-calling” and said she wouldn’t waste energy on it.

“I don’t take these things personally. It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I’m going to continue to focus on the things that people want to talk about and not get into the name-calling back with him.”

Haley answers a question during the CNN town hall.

Haley answers a question during the CNN town hall.

Haley would pardon Trump … under certain conditions

Haley didn’t close the door to pardoning Trump if she were elected president.

She asserted she would not preemptively pardon him, saying that she felt “everything needs to play out.” Haley also strongly suggested she does not believe in the type of blanket immunity Trump has recently argued presidents should have.

But she went on to say that under a scenario in which she was president and Trump was convicted of any of the felony charges he is currently facing, she would consider a pardon.

The former governor explained: “This is no longer about whether he’s innocent or guilty. This is about the fact that ‘How do we bring the country back together?’ And I am determined to make sure all of this division and all of this chaos goes away, and I think a pardon for him would make all of that go away.”

Haley said she felt that would be “healing for the country.”

Trump faces 91 criminal charges across four indictments. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Focusing on foreign policy

Haley leaned hard into her time as UN ambassador — and at times used her husband, Michael, who is currently deployed to Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard, as an avatar for her views.

She criticized Biden for failing to take a more aggressive posture toward Iran, saying that Iran is behind both Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen.

She also lambasted both Trump and Biden for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. She said that Trump was wrong to suggest negotiating with the Taliban on US soil and that Biden rushed the US withdrawal.

“What was heartbreaking for me was, I watched my husband watch the news that day. And he saw them driving in the Jeeps, and he said, ‘Those are our vehicles.’ … Then he saw them wearing the American uniform and making fun of our American soldiers,” she said. “Think about, from everyone over 20 years that served in Afghanistan, to see the image of that.”

“The level of improvement of the quality of life for the women there … all of that’s gone,” Haley said.

Haley was also asked whether she would end the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution to address the decades of conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

She argued that “Israel has to defend themselves first” after the October 7 terrorist attack and said she understands Israel’s discomfort with the presence of Hamas.

“Israel is a bright spot in a tough neighborhood. They are the tip of the spear when it comes to fighting terrorism. It has never been that Israel needs America; it has always been that America needs Israel,” she said.https://menjangkau.com

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