MARION, Iowa — Presidential candidate Nikki Haley defended her proposal for mental competency tests here on Tuesday — in startlingly personal terms.
Haley said that one critic of the proposal, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was “exactly the reason we need it.”
Sanders, 81, had told Stephen Colbert of CBS’s “Late Show” Monday that Haley’s plan for mandatory tests of the mental acuity of politicians over the age of 75 was “nothing more than old-fashioned ageism” and “not acceptable.”
Haley, answering a final question from an audience member here at a campaign event, said: “Bernie Sanders lost his mind because I asked for that. He is exactly the reason we need it.”
The crowd laughed but Haley then widened her critique, unprompted, to include two other veteran Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif) and Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.)
“Whoopi Goldberg lost her mind over it — and you know what she was doing? She was glorifying Dianne Feinstein and Maxine Waters. They are exactly the reason we need it,” Haley said.
Feinstein, who is 89 and whose cognitive capacities have been widely questioned, recently announced she would retire at the end of her current term, sparking a Democratic race to succeed her.
Haley’s comments seem sure to inject fresh fire into the contoversy — and keep her in the news, as she has done throughout an impressive rollout to her campaign.
She spent most of her 25-minute stump speech here suggesting she would pursue conservative policies on topics including crime, education and immigration.
She was for the most part complimentary about Donald Trump, but — in response to that same final question — made plain her differences with the former president.
The question, from an audience member who identified himself as “Bob,” was whether she would consider Trump as her running mate in 2024.
So far Trump and Haley are the only two major candidates in the race.
A clearly amused Haley asked, “How well do you think it would go over if I called President Trump [and ] said ‘Do you wanna be my VP?'”
“President Trump is my friend. I called him before I did this. We had a good conversation,” Haley said.
But, she continued, “He was the right president at the right time. He broke the things that needed to be broken and he worked to fix them. The reason I’m running is, we gotta move forward. We gotta move forward. We cant keep dealing with these issues in the past and I think we need a young generation of leaders.”
Up until that point, Haley had mostly couched her contrast with Trump in implicit rather than direct terms.
For example, she hearkened back to a more peaceful time in American life when, she told the audience to nods, “Remember, there wasn’t chaos. You didn’t hold your breath turning on the news.”
Yet if Haley would be cast as a “moderate,” that seems to be a label she doesn’t want — perhaps because it is likely a ticket to defeat in today’s GOP.
She took the fight hard to President Biden, calling the recent Chinese spy balloon episode “a national embarrassment.” and the withdrawal from Afghanistan a “debacle.”
She gave a mild nod of acknowledgment to Biden’s current trip to Poland and Ukraine but asked rhetorically “Shouldn’t he be with those people in Ohio?”
She was alluding to the recent train derailment in East Palestine, after which residents have complained of a host of health symptoms — and the Biden administration has faced criticism for not sending more high-level officials to visit sooner.