Haley Dismisses Nevada Loss, Calling Primary Process ‘Rigged’ for Trump

(Bloomberg) -- Nikki Haley dismissed an embarrassing loss in Nevada’s Republican presidential primary, saying the state’s nominating process had been “rigged” in favor of rival Donald Trump and criticizing his hold on the party.

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Haley finished second to a ballot option for “none of these candidates,” a result she played down on Wednesday by reiterating that her focus remains on the upcoming contest in her home state of South Carolina.

“We always knew Nevada was a scam. Trump had it rigged from the very beginning,” Haley said on Fox Business. “Our focus is on South Carolina going into Michigan, going into Super Tuesday. Those are the places that we’re worried about. We’re not focused on Nevada, we never were.”

The Nevada primary held on Tuesday awarded no delegates and Haley did not campaign in the state. But the optics of her defeat drew ridicule and dealt a blow to her hopes to position herself as a viable challenger to Trump for the nomination. With 88% of the votes in on Wednesday afternoon, Haley had 30.5% to 63.2% for none of the candidates.

Earlier: Haley Loses Nevada Primary to ‘None of These Candidates’ Option

Trump opted to skip the primary to run in the Nevada Republican caucus, which will award delegates, and where he faces no major rival. Legislators authorized a state-run primary but Republican party leaders decided to hold a caucus to award delegates, an unusual arrangement that critics said was intended to give Trump an advantage.

“They wanted us to pay $55,000 to just participate in their caucus. So we didn’t spend a day or $1 there. We weren’t even worried about it. It’s why we haven’t talked about it,” Haley said Wednesday.

Haley has taken a harder stance against members of her own party, including Trump and members of Congress, as her path to the Republican nomination has narrowed. That’s a risky gambit when she’s vying for the GOP nomination, but her campaign has said part of their strategy is to turn out new voters that don’t necessarily identify with the Republican or Democratic parties.

“Every single one of them are responsible for the fact that they got nothing done,” she said at a campaign rally in Los Angeles Wednesday night, referring to members of her own party. “Republicans lose the fight on the border. They lose the fight on Israel aid. The head of the Republican party loses her job. Everything Donald Trump touches — it’s chaos.”

Haley was referring to a bipartisan border deal negotiated in the Senate which collapsed this week after Trump urged Republicans to reject the package. House Speaker Mike Johnson also suffered a setback on Tuesday when the chamber failed to pass a $17.6 billion Israel funding package amid a broader fight over border policies and aid to Ukraine.

Trump’s efforts to kill the border compromise highlighted his grip on the party. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is also in discussions with party leaders to step down by the end of this month, according to people familiar, after pressure from Trump.

The loss in Nevada comes as Haley is looking to close the gap with Trump, who is on the cusp of clinching the GOP nomination after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. The next major contest is on Feb. 24 in South Carolina, where Haley was born and served two terms as governor. She trails Trump there by over 30 percentage points according to the RealClearPolitics average of state polls.

Haley has sought to show big-dollar donors that she has momentum as the last remaining challenger to Trump for the nomination in a bid to keep funding flowing to her long-shot campaign.

(Adds comments from rally in Los Angeles, background in paragraphs 7-10)

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