Haley challenges Trump on her home turf in South Carolina as the Republican primary looms

Haley challenges Trump on her home turf in South Carolina as the Republican primary looms

Haley challenges Trump on her home turf in South Carolina as the Republican primary looms

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — With two weeks to go before the South Carolina Republican primary, Nikki Haley is trying to challenge Donald Trump on her home turf while the former president tries to quash his last major rival for the nomination.

Trump, turning his campaign focus to the southern state days after an easy victory in Nevada, revved up a huge crowd of supporters at a Saturday afternoon rally in Conway, near Myrtle Beach, maligning a news media he sees as biased against him and lobbing attacks on Haley and President Joe Biden.

In his rally speech, Trump insulted Haley by using his derisive nickname for her, “Birdbrain,” and lavished praise on South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed him early. Trump claimed that he selected Haley to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations in 2017 and represent America on the world stage only because he was motivated to make McMaster — her second-in-command — the governor of South Carolina.

“She did a job. She was fine. She was OK. 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.”

“I wanted him because I felt he deserved it," Trump added.

Trump, who has long been the front-runner in the GOP presidential race, won three states in a row and is looking to use South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary to close out Haley’s chances and turn his focus fully on an expected rematch with Biden in the general election.

Haley skipped the Nevada caucuses, condemning the contest as rigged for Trump, and has instead focused on South Carolina, kicking off a two-week bus tour across the state where she served as governor from 2011 to 2017.

Speaking to about a couple hundred people gathered outside a historic opera house in Newberry, Haley on Saturday 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.

Haley, 52, has called throughout her campaign for mental competency tests for politicians, a way to contrast with 77-year-old Trump and 81-year-old Biden.

“Why do we have to have someone in their 80s run for office?” she asked. “Why can’t they let go of their power?”

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

“They are grumpy old men,” Haley said.

Haley continued the argument when speaking to reporters afterward, citing a report released Thursday by the special counsel investigating Biden's possession of classified documents. The report described Biden's memory as “poor.”

“American can do better than two 80-year-olds for president,” Haley said.

Trump also ramped up his attacks on the media, maligning the press at least a half-dozen times, with the crowd registering their agreement with boos.

He wrapped up with an at times apocalyptic vision of the country, listing ills from dirty, crowded airports to looming nuclear war and, if he loses the election, predicting the stock market would crash like it did in 1929, touching off the Great Depression. He referred to his supporters who were prosecuted for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as “hostages” who have been “unfairly imprisoned for long periods of time."

In Conway, people began lining up to see Trump hours before the doors opened to the arena where he was set to take the stage later.

Organizers set up outside screens for an overflow crowd to watch.

The city sits along the Grand Strand, a broad expanse of South Carolina’s northern coast that is home to Myrtle Beach and Horry County, one of the most reliably conservative spots in the state and a central area of Trump’s base of support in the state in his past campaigns.

Tim Carter, from nearby Murrells Inlet, said he had backed Trump since 2016 and would do so again this year.

“We’re here to stand for Trump, get our economy better, shut our border down, more jobs for our people,” said Carter, a pastor and military veteran who runs an addiction recovery ministry.

Cheryl Savage from Conway, who was waiting on the bleachers to hear from Trump, said the former president is "here to help us.” Savage said she backed Haley during her first run for governor in 2010 but now feels she is hurting herself by staying in the race.

“He deserves a second term,” Savage said, of Trump. “He did a fantastic job for four years.”