Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was met with chants of “We love Trump” and other jeers from supporters of the former president after she finished her speech to a gathering of influential conservatives.
Haley, the first major candidate to officially challenge Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, was berated by hecklers Friday as she exited the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington.
The episode demonstrates Trump’s passionate following among some conservatives, despite questions about whether enthusiasm for the former president is fading as polls indicate that many Republican voters want an alternative.
A former UN ambassador under Trump, Haley, 51, got a warm welcome from the CPAC crowd as she began her remarks. She focused her speech mostly on criticizing President Joe Biden and “socialist Democrats” — as well as the threat posed by China — and drew no direct contrasts with Trump.
She did indirectly jab the former president by pointing out that Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections and by calling for a mental competency test for all politicians over 75 years old — which would apply to Trump, 76.
“Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans,” Haley said. “That ends now. If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were among those scheduled to speak Friday. Trump — who credits CPAC with helping to launch his political career — is scheduled to address the crowd Saturday evening.
Pompeo avoided drawing direct contrasts with Trump other than to point out that the former president added $8 trillion to the US debt that now stands at $31 trillion, which he said is “deeply unconservative” and “indecent and can’t continue.”
The former secretary of state did note that Republicans have had disappointing results in the last three federal elections and appeared to allude to Trump’s character — and tease his own White House run — when he said people who claim to be conservative excuse hypocrisy by saying voters elect a president, not a Sunday school teacher.
“That’s true, but having taught Sunday school, maybe we could get both,” Pompeo said in his speech. “It’s time for us to make sure we’re living out these very things we’re asking others to do.”
— With assistance from Mark Niquette.