PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley on Saturday aggressively questioned former president Donald Trump’s mental fitness, seizing on a flub at a rally in which Trump repeatedly called Nancy Pelosi by Haley’s name when attacking the former House speaker.
Trump’s mix-up Friday night came as he repeated unsubstantiated claims that he made a “recommendation for troops” to be brought in to quell the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol while Pelosi was derelict in her duties as speaker when it came to keeping the complex safe.
Instead of targeting Pelosi by name, as he has in the past, Trump repeatedly referred to “Nikki Haley” during his remarks in Concord, N.H., ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
“Do we really want to go into an election with two fellas that are going to be president in their 80s?” Haley said at a stop Saturday in Keene, N.H., referring to Trump and President Biden.
“We see that Biden has changed so much over two years,” Haley said. “But last night Trump is at a rally, and he’s going on and on mentioning me multiple times as to why I didn’t [handle] security during the Capitol riot, why I didn’t handle January 6th better,” Haley said. “I wasn’t even in D.C. on January 6th. I wasn’t in office then.”
“The concern I have is, I’m not saying anything derogatory, but when you’re dealing with the pressures of a presidency, we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this,” Haley added.
Haley echoed those sentiments during an event here in Peterborough and again when speaking to reporters afterward, suggesting that there were other signs of Trump’s decline.
“You know, my parents are up in age, and I love them dearly,” she said when asked directly if Trump, 77, is mentally fit to be president. “But when you see them hit a certain age, there is a decline. That’s a fact, ask any doctor, there is a decline. And this is a situation where our country is very vulnerable right now.”
Haley also noted that Trump erroneously referred to running against former president Barack Obama and implored the audience not to “put our country at risk like this.”
“This is not personal,” Haley said. “Y’all know I voted for him twice. I was proud to serve in his administration. This is the fact that we have a country in disarray and a world on fire. And we need to know that we are not giving our kids options of two 80-year-olds going into a presidency.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), a top supporter of Haley’s, also raised questions Saturday about Trump’s mental fitness.
“Donald Trump can barely keep a cogent thought if he takes his eyes off a teleprompter, very similar to Joe Biden,” Sununu told reporters.
Since launching her campaign last year, Haley has made mental competence tests a central part of her pitch to be a new generational leader for the party. Saturday marked the first time she had targeted Trump so directly. Biden, 81, is a far more frequent target.
Haley stepped up her attacks on Trump in other respects Saturday, accusing him of lying about her record.
“If you have to lie to win, you don’t deserve to win,” Haley told voters in Keene, referring to Trump. “It’s not that I don’t like him. I have no problem with him being who he is. I dealt with him every day, it was always something.”
She also criticized Trump for having had a “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I had to sit down and have a conversation with him because he was having too much of a bromance with Putin,” Haley said, referring to her tenure as U.N. ambassador during Trump’s presidency.
By late afternoon Saturday, Trump had not responded directly to Haley raising questions about his mental fitness, but in several social media posts he referred to her as “birdbrain.” Trump also renewed his attacks on former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over security at the Capitol, this time referring to her as Pelosi rather than Haley.
Trump campaign manager Chris LaCivita sought to downplay Trump’s mix up, claiming on social media that Haley and Pelosi are “a distinction without a difference” – a suggestion that Haley is too liberal for Republican voters.
During his rally Friday night, Trump repeated his claim that he made a “recommendation for troops” on Jan. 6, 2021. The House select committee that investigated Jan. 6 found “no evidence” to support his claim. Trump has alleged that information corroborating his claim was destroyed but has presented no evidence of that.
“You know Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, did you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything?” Trump told his crowd Friday. “Deleted it and destroyed all of it because of lots of things, like Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people.”
Democrats and Trump’s other GOP rivals have increasingly highlighted his verbal stumbles.
Earlier this week during a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) suggested Trump is declining.
“What Donald Trump does now is, he is wedded to the teleprompter; he can’t get off that teleprompter,” DeSantis said. “This is a different Donald Trump than in 2015 and 2016. He’s lost the zip on his fastball, and has a sense of entitlement.”
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.