Haley Criticizes Trump and Biden as ‘Grumpy Old Men’ While Appealing to Older Voters in South Carolina

Credits: The Hill

On a chilly February evening in a popular enclave attracting tourists and retirees seeking milder winters, many Nikki Haley supporters converged at a restaurant where the former South Carolina governor reiterated a familiar refrain.

“Don’t you think it’s time we had mental competency tests for anyone over 75?” Haley queried the crowd, predominantly comprising seniors, who responded with resounding applause.

“These are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to know they’re at the top of their game.”

Haley (Credits: Reuters)

Haley, aged 52, has positioned herself as the leader of the next generation since launching her campaign nearly a year ago. Her critiques of former President Donald Trump’s mental acuity have intensified in recent months.

With the state’s Republican primary on the horizon, her campaign has initiated a media effort in South Carolina portraying Trump and President Joe Biden as two irritable old men.

This strategy could prove precarious in a location where Haley requires the support of senior voters. According to the US Census Bureau, South Carolina experienced the fastest population growth in 2023, largely due to an influx of nearly 40,000 retirees.

Despite Haley’s effort to appeal to older voters, especially recent arrivals in the state, her campaign highlights the distinctions between her relative youth and the advanced ages of Biden and Trump.

Maureen Bulger, a 69-year-old retiree who relocated to Hilton Head from New Jersey in 2022, closely observed Haley’s remarks at the back of the restaurant.

She intends to vote for the former South Carolina governor in the primary on February 24, partly because she agrees with Haley’s argument that older politicians should step aside.

“As we age, your knees don’t work as they used to. Your brain might be sharp, but it takes energy and a lot of fortitude to be the president of the United States,” Bulger remarked. “I just don’t think our country should be with someone going on his way out when we still have so much young blood.”

During her remarks on the night of the New Hampshire primary last month, Haley urged both Republican and Democratic voters to move away from Trump, 77, and Biden, 81, asserting, “The first party to retire its 80-year-old candidate is going to be the party that wins this election.”

A recent Haley campaign ad labeled both Biden and Trump as “grumpy old men” and “stumbling seniors.” In an appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Haley quipped that voters would “see dead people” if both candidates appeared on the general election ballot.

However, the Haley campaign is also vying for the support of South Carolina retirees, a growing segment of the Republican primary voter pool. The state remains an attractive destination for retirees, many settling in South Carolina after residing in moderate or Democratic-leaning areas.

This dynamic necessitates that Haley delicately balances advocating for generational change within the Republican Party’s leadership and avoiding alienating older voters who could help narrow the gap between her and Trump.

In the Iowa caucuses, Haley finished third behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (who has since dropped out), and she secured second place behind Trump in the New Hampshire primary.

A recent Washington Post/Monmouth University poll of potential Republican primary voters in South Carolina indicated Trump had 58% support, while 32% expressed support for Haley.

For some attendees at Haley’s rallies, it appears that she is striking the right chord. Anna Memmo, 61, a visitor to Hilton Head for 25 years, now residing in South Carolina full time, plans to vote for Haley in the primary. She believes age and mental competency should be considerations in determining one’s vote.

“Whether it’s the Biden ticket or the Trump ticket, I do feel that it’s very important to … consider age and cognitive skills,” Memmo remarked. “I think it’s a very important role. I mean, the president of the United States.”

Haley’s critiques of Trump’s and Biden’s mental acuity place some of her older supporters in the awkward position of defending the former United Nations ambassador even as they disagree with her decision to target the candidates based on their age.

Ray Makalous, a 75-year-old Haley supporter residing in Hilton Head for seven years, expressed that he wouldn’t vote for Biden or Trump if Trump won the nomination. However, he indicated some discomfort with Haley diminishing her rivals based on their age.

“I think that we still have people that are 78 and 80 that can be senators and representatives. That would be an issue that I’d look at, and I’d say – I wouldn’t be driving that on home,” Makalous mentioned. “I think I would do some other talking points other than that.”

Haley’s pitch for a new generation may have limitations on its impact, particularly given the considerable number of GOP voters in the state already planning to vote for Trump.

Laura Holtzman, a 76-year-old retiree from New York who primarily resides in Hilton Head, intends to cast a ballot for Trump and believes criticisms of the former president’s age don’t carry the same weight as they do for Biden.

“Trump could run around in circles, and you can see that,” Holtzman commented, noting her view of Biden as “bad shape.” “So, I don’t go by numbers, especially since I’m 76.”

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