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'First in the South' GOP presidential primary is later this month in South Carolina

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Both Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are campaigning in South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary later this month. Today, Haley is back on the road, starting in her hometown of Bamberg before hitting coastal towns near Charleston and Hilton Head.

Trump has been campaigning there as well and, over the weekend, made a remark about NATO allies, saying if they didn't spend enough on their own defense, he would welcome Russia to do whatever it wants to them. South Carolina Public Radio's Gavin Jackson was listening as Trump said that, and he's on the line. Gavin, good morning.

GAVIN JACKSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: It's interesting when Trump talked in that way about leaving a NATO ally to be invaded by Russia. Haley is somebody with a diplomatic background herself. She served as Trump's own U.N. Ambassador, so how'd she respond?

JACKSON: Yeah, Steve, I sat down with Nikki Haley the day after that, on Sunday, and this just became another example for her to point to about how Trump's lack of leadership on the world stage is dangerous. She routinely talks about him cozying up to leaders that she describes as thugs, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, and this gave her just more ammunition and energy for this campaign, with fresh talking points about what foreign policy would look like under Trump, which she has seen up close during her two years at the U.N.

INSKEEP: Trump, of course, also makes things personal - that's no surprise...

JACKSON: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...And made it personal somehow with a remark about Haley's husband?

JACKSON: Yeah. And she pointed out the other day that she tries not to make politics personal, and she sees that as the problem. So during his 90-minute-long speech over the weekend here in South Carolina, Trump mentioned how Haley previously told him at Mar-a-Lago that she wasn't going to run against him. And during that meeting, she brought her husband, Michael, with her. And Trump recalled this meeting, and he mentioned where Michael - he kept saying, you know, where's Michael? - and then started questioning his whereabouts. And Haley called this remark insulting. And I asked her if such past and current remarks that Trump has made about veterans disqualifies him from being commander in chief, and this is what she had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: I don't even think you should have a driver's license if you talk bad about a member of the military. I certainly don't think you should be president of the United States.

JACKSON: And we should note that Major Michael Haley with the South Carolina Army National Guard is on a yearlong deployment in support of U.S. Africa Command in the Horn of Africa.

INSKEEP: Gavin, having covered Haley's campaign since the start, has she changed her approach to voters at all?

JACKSON: Yeah. And so Steve, she has been sharpening her attack somewhat against former President Trump. Obviously, she's the last one standing behind before him - between this - the Republican nomination at this point. But she continues to make this message - this focus on electability - that she's the only person that could beat Biden in November. However, based on Trump's victories, it's clear that's not exactly reaching these primary voters, and they're not very interested in it. But she's hoping that comments that Trump made recently over the weekend, like the chaos she's pointing to on the trail, will help break through. The only problem is these primary voters are energized for Trump.

INSKEEP: So what happens in the final days of the primary?

JACKSON: Yeah, like we said, she'll be back in her hometown of Bamberg this morning as part of this bus tour barnstorming across the state. She'll also have two more events today. They're not big rallies, but they're getting folks out, getting people motivated to go vote because we are early voting right now. So she's really trying to get folks to get to the polls early and bring some people with them. And then, of course, we'll see former President Donald Trump back in the state on Wednesday evening for Valentine's Day. Will he bring the former first lady, speaking of spouses we haven't seen on the trail? Well, we'll have to wait and see. But I can tell you there'll be a few thousand supporters out there in North Charleston eager to see him.

INSKEEP: Same to you. South Carolina Public Radio's Gavin Jackson - thanks so much.

JACKSON: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Gavin Jackson
Gavin Jackson graduated with a visual journalism degree from Kent State University in 2008 and has been in the news industry ever since. He’s worked at newspapers in Ohio, Louisiana and most recently in South Carolina at the Florence Morning News and Charleston Post and Courier. His career as a multi-faceted journalist began in 2011 at the Morning News where he wrote, shot photos and video for daily stories in print, online and broadcast. His local political coverage got him hired onto The Post and Courier’s Statehouse bureau team in fall 2015. He covered the presidential primaries, Gov. Nikki Haley, the legislature and more. South Carolina ETV hired him in 2017 as their only news and public affairs reporter in an effort to grow SCETV’s news presence.