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Fact check: Trump falsely claims Nikki Haley supported Obama over Republican opponent Romney

By Daniel Dale, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump has started making a fictional claim about the political past of Nikki Haley, his remaining opponent for the Republican presidential nomination.

On social media last week and at a campaign rally last weekend in South Carolina, where Haley served as governor from 2011 to 2017, Trump claimed that Haley had been a supporter of Democratic President Barack Obama – and even that she had at least briefly supported Obama over his Republican opponent in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney.

In Trump’s social media post on Friday, he claimed that Haley was not only a “flunky” for Romney, a frequent critic of Trump who is now a US senator for Utah, but that “she was also a Barack Hussein Obama supporter as seen here,” pointing to a video clip from the 2012 campaign. At a rally the next day, Trump said Haley was not only a friend of Romney but that “she actually dropped Romney for a little while for Obama.”

Facts First: Trump’s claims that Haley had been an Obama supporter and that she had spent time supporting Obama over Romney are both false. Haley was a vehement Obama critic and a staunch Romney supporter, endorsing Romney for president against Obama before the first votes were cast in the 2012 Republican primary that Romney ended up winning. Haley was also an early Romney endorser in the 2008 Republican presidential primary he lost. There was no period in which she abandoned Romney in favor of Obama.

Haley, who was South Carolina’s Republican governor at the time of the 2012 campaign cycle, said in a December 2011 statement about her endorsement of Romney: “Neither South Carolina nor the nation can afford four more years of President Obama, and Mitt Romney is the right person to take him on and get America back on track.” She also said in the statement that “our country will need real leadership to undo President Obama’s failed policies.”

So what is Trump – who also endorsed Romney during the 2012 primary – even talking about? His campaign did not respond to CNN’s requests for an explanation. But the only piece of supposed evidence Trump has provided, the 2012 video clip he posted on social media, is not evidence at all.

The clip shows Haley appearing with Romney at one of his campaign events in 2012 but flubbing her usual comment about how Romney wanted to strengthen the military, accidentally saying Obama wanted to strengthen the military.

The clip shows a smiling Romney letting her know she had mixed up the names and a smiling Haley saying “nooo!” in acknowledgment of the mistake. A Patch.com news report from the 2012 event shows that Haley criticized Obama’s handling of the military just a few words prior in the same sentence, and that she went on to correct her inadvertent remark.

Trump is certainly entitled to highlight a past Haley slip; during the 2024 primary, she has been highlighting his recent verbal stumbles to question his mental fitness for the presidency. But Trump’s social media claim that this single gaffe shows Haley had been an Obama supporter is nonsense. And his context-free claim at the rally, in which he told the crowd with no explanation that Haley had “actually dropped Romney for a little while for Obama,” is substantially worse.

Trump repeated the claim in slightly softer form at another rally in South Carolina on Wednesday, saying that Haley “seriously thought about supporting a gentleman, name is Barack Hussein Obama” but “decided to go with Romney instead.” There is also no evidence for the claim that Haley ever “seriously thought” about supporting Obama over Romney.

South Carolina’s Republican primary will be held on February 24.

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