Nikki Haley says Trump is ‘not qualified’ to be president because of his ‘disrespect for the military’

Nikki Haley says Trump is 'not qualified' to be president because of his 'disrespect for the military' © Provided by NBC News

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Monday that Donald Trump is “not qualified” to lead the country again after his recent comments about her deployed husband.

“He showed that with that kind of disrespect for the military, he’s not qualified to be the president of the United States, because I don’t trust him to protect them,” Haley said.

During a rally Saturday afternoon, Trump jabbed at Haley and her husband when talking about meeting them at his Florida resort.

“Then she comes over to see me at Mar-a-Lago. ‘Sir, I will never run against you.’ She brought her husband,” Trump said. “Where’s your husband? Oh, he’s away. He’s away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone! He knew. He knew.”

In the past, Trump has made dubious comments about the Haleys’ marriage.

Michael Haley, a commissioned officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard, left for a yearlong deployment in June — a fact that Haley frequently mentions at her campaign events.

Haley fired back at Trump on social media over the weekend, and then in remarks to reporters Monday contrasted her husband’s service with the fact that Trump has “never come anywhere near a military uniform.”

“He’s never had to fight for survival like so many of them sacrifice to go do,” she said. “The most harm he’s ever come across is whether a golf ball hits him on a golf cart.”

And Haley said Monday that she didn’t believe Trump’s comments were an accident.

“This wasn’t a slip of the tongue for Trump,” she said. “When he goes off his teleprompter, that’s him speaking from the heart and it’s a pattern.” She brought up examples of Trump calling military members “suckers” and “losers,” according to his former chief of staff John Kelly, and other disparaging comments he is said to have made while visiting Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2020, Haley praised Trump’s record toward the military and defended him when then-candidate Joe Biden tweeted a video citing the “losers” and “suckers” remarks. Haley at the time said, “All of us who worked with [Trump] witnessed the tremendous amount of love and respect he has for our military.”

Haley, who signed a pledge to support her party’s nominee before participating in GOP primary debates last year, did not directly answer a question about whether she would vote for Trump again in 2024, noting that she’s “still trying to defeat him.”

But Haley added: “Anyone who will put down members of the military, anyone who will say that while they’re deployed — which is pretty disgusting — do you really want that person being the leader of all those who may have to go fight in a war?”

Trump national press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement, “There has been no greater advocate for our brave military men and women than President Trump.”

She added: “Nikki Haley advocates for greater foreign intervention and supports endless wars that would leave more American heroes dead. It’s a good thing she will be never be commander-in-chief.”

Haley has ramped up her rhetoric against the former president ahead of the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary, with early voting in the contest starting Monday. Her campaign debuted a chicken mascot last week, calling the former president “too chicken to debate.” It began handing out mental competency tests at campaign events, too. And the Haley team drove a mobile billboard outside of Trump’s event in South Carolina over the weekend that showed Trump and President Joe Biden on the “Grumpy Old Men” movie poster.

Haley fundraised off of Trump’s Saturday comments over the weekend, selling pro-military T-shirts and asking supporters to help “defeat Trump and elect a commander in chief who supports our troops and understands the sacrifices our military families make.”

Trump never served in the military. But going back to his first campaign for president, he has, at times, made disparaging comments about those who have.

In 2015, he went after then-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and mocked his service and experience as a prisoner of war.

He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Also during the 2016 campaign, Trump insulted the parents of a fallen Muslim U.S. Army captain, after they spoke out against him at the Democratic convention that year.