Since she jumped into the 2024 presidential contest, Nikki Haley has been pleading what she sees as one of the strongest parts of her case: It is time for a new generation of leadership.
At first, she argued her point lightly, calling for mandatory competency tests and a “move beyond the stale ideas and faded names of the past.” But as the race to the Republican nomination has narrowed, the stakes have risen for her and so has the urgency of her message.
On Friday, Ms. Haley used the special counsel report on President Biden’s handling of classified documents, which called attention to his age and memory, to mount her harshest attack yet against her chief rival, former President Donald J. Trump.
“Donald Trump has his own mental deficiencies, is prone to temper tantrums and wild rants,” she said in an online statement.
She continued by noting that he “confuses countries and who was in charge of Capitol security on January 6th,” referring to Mr. Trump confusing her with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
She used the gaffe to draw a comparison between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, who at a news conference on Thursday following the release of the special counsel’s report, mistakenly referred to the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as the “president of Mexico” as he tried to address the latest developments in the war in Gaza.
“Trump runs about even with the enfeebled Biden; he would get crushed by a Democrat with a pulse,” she said after suggesting without evidence that Democrats appeared to be seeking to replace Mr. Biden.
“Yesterday was a wakeup call for the country,” the statement read. “Today should also be a wake-up call for Republicans.”
White House officials have pushed back on attacks against Mr. Biden’s age, saying he faced such criticism when he ran in 2020 and won. Mr. Trump has previously addressed Ms. Haley’s age-related attacks, saying he feels “sharper now than I did 20 years ago.”
The special counsel’s report pushed Mr. Biden’s age, the singularly uncomfortable subject looming over his re-election bid, back to the center of political debate.
As Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump head into a heated primary showdown on Feb. 24 in South Carolina, her home state, she has shifted toward a more combative stance, casting both Mr. Trump, 77, and Mr. Biden, 81, as belonging to the same bygone era of politics. More recently, she has also taken to more aggressively criticizing Republicans for rallying behind Mr. Trump.
“I have long said the first party to retire its 80-year-old candidate will win the White House,” she said in her Friday statement.