Feb 28, 2024 - News

Nikki Haley warns Utah voters the GOP will lose if Trump becomes presidential nominee

Nikki Haley address reporters next to an American flag.

Nikki Haley addresses reporters at Utah Valley University on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Courtesy: Isaac Hale/UVU Marketing.

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley told Utahns that voters deserve a leader with "moral clarity" during a campaign rally Tuesday at Utah Valley University.

Why it matters: The former U.N. ambassador's visit to Utah comes as she makes a last-minute plea to voters ahead of the Super Tuesday primary.

What she's saying: "If Donald Trump is the nominee, we will lose. It is that simple," she said to a crowd of about 900 while another couple of hundred watched from an overflow room.

  • Haley criticized the direction the Republican Party is heading under former President Trump's influence.
  • "At some point, if Republicans really want to get this back on track. We've got to acknowledge that maybe it's him. Maybe Donald Trump is the reason we're losing."

Inside the room: During her address, one heckler yelled: "You didn't win South Carolina!" — a reference to Haley's embarrassing double-digit loss in her home state's GOP primary.

The intrigue: Haley has garnered considerable support from some of Utah's top GOP leaders.

  • Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and first lady Abby Cox endorsed the former South Carolina governor in January.
  • "The depth and the dignity with which she conducts herself is exactly what our country needs right now," Henderson told the audience before welcoming Haley on the stage.

State of play: GOP voters have demonstrated lukewarm support for Trump in Utah, a deeply religious state where many residents belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • During Utah's GOP primary in 2016, Trump came in third, collecting about 14% of the vote.
  • Trump went on to garner about 45% of the vote on Election Day that year — the lowest share of any other red state.

Between the lines: Gov. Spencer Cox, the current chair of the National Governors Association, recently told reporters it would be a "huge mistake" to make Trump the Republican Party's presidential nominee.

  • "If we were to nominate Gov. Haley or literally anyone else, we would win by 10 to 14 points," he said.

Flashback: As she called for Congress to pass a stronger border bill, Haley touted strict immigration legislation she signed in 2011 while serving as the South Carolina governor.

  • It required law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of someone they stop if it's suspected that they are in the country illegally.
  • Since then, some portions of the law have been blocked by judges.

The other side: Days before Haley's address, a coalition of Republican elected officials released a letter supporting Trump's re-election, including Senate President Stuart Adams, House Speaker Mike Schultz and Attorney General Sean Reyes, the Deseret News reported.

  • "Utah is at the forefront of federal government encroachment, and we need a president who will restore power back to the states and to the people," Schultz said in the letter.
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