Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is rising in the polls in the Republican presidential race, criticized former President Donald J. Trump for vowing to root out his political opponents like “vermin.”
“I don’t agree with that statement,” Ms. Haley said at a town-hall event in Newton, Iowa. “Any more than I agree when he said Hezbollah was smart, or any more than I agree when he hit Netanyahu when his country was on its knees after all that brutality.”
Ms. Haley’s response, which came six days after Mr. Trump made the remarks at a Veterans Day address in Claremont, N.H., was prompted by a question from Daniel Beintema, 63, a supporter of Ms. Haley who was concerned about the spread of “hate and division” and how little attention Mr. Trump’s comments received from Republican officials.
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric — particularly the use of the word “vermin” — was condemned by President Biden’s campaign and other Democrats, as well as by historians, for its echoes with the dehumanizing rhetoric wielded by fascist dictators like Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
“When somebody that’s a leader in the Republican Party uses words of divisiveness and hatred, calling people vermin — and just because they oppose what you’re doing or where they come from, who they are,” Mr. Beintema said in an interview after the event. “And the Republican Party backed away from that, like, ‘Well, I’m not going to make a comment on that.’ I think that’s important.”
The town-hall exchange reflected the careful criticism of Mr. Trump that has seeped into Ms. Haley’s stump speeches on the campaign trail. She has focused on the former president’s mercurial and scandal-prone nature, something she says would be a liability both for Republicans at the polls and in the Oval Office.
“You look at the elections from last week or two weeks ago, we lost again. That’s chaos,” Ms. Haley said speaking to voters on Friday. She added: “We can’t have the world on fire and be dealing with chaos. We just can’t. We won’t survive it.”
The critical comments also come as Ms. Haley is surging in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states. Voters who plan to caucus for her in Iowa have said it is because of her foreign policy experience, her strong performance in the debates and her commitment to speaking what she calls “hard truths.”
“She is willing to not avoid tough subjects that are going to potentially offend people who would show up for her,” said Mark Timmerman, 62, a resident of Clive, Iowa, who traveled to see Ms. Haley in Ankeny on Friday. “She will tell the truth.”
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