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Nikki Haley to Announce She's Dropping Out of Presidential Race; Haley Congratulates Trump, But Doesn't Endorse Him. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired March 06, 2024 - 10:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Jim Acosta joined by my colleague, Wolf Blitzer.

Any moment now, Nikki Haley will address the nation. Sources tell CNN that in minutes from now, she is expected to suspend her presidential campaign. We are told she would not endorse her rival, former President Donald Trump, at least for now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go to our reporter who's over at Haley's campaign headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina.


Kylie Atwood is watching what's going on.

Do we have any sense, Kylie, what we can specifically expect her to say?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, I think Nikki Haley is going to come out here and thank the people that voted for her, talk about the factors that she ran her election on, conservative fiscal policy, the need to be close with U.S. allies when it comes to foreign policy. a number of things. But she is suspending her campaign today after having run for president for more than a year, being the final person to be standing when it comes to challenging former President Trump, but she has not expected to endorse Trump today.

Her folks who are familiar with what she's going to say say that she is going go ahead and say that Trump needs to earn the support of those voters. She has repeatedly said throughout the entire course of her campaign, that the Republican Party needs to be a party of addition. And she doesn't believe that Trump has been approaching his campaign that way.

She has talked about the fact that she wants to give her voters an option. That's why she stayed on the ballot through Super Tuesday. But this was a decision that he made last night as her campaign was monitoring the results that were coming in. Jeff Zeleny spoke with a source, an aide on campaign, who said that it was when they were monitoring those results that they determined that she wasn't going to hit the benchmarks that they had said, that you wasn't going to do well enough to keep her campaign alive.

Now, we should note that Nikki Haley did win two states, D.C. and Vermont, throughout the course of this Republican primary. She did not win enough voters, however, to keep our campaign alive and to surpass the former president.

But her campaign does feel like she attracted enough support from Republican voters to really make the case that there is a significant block of the Republican Party who is not with Trump. And that's why she is going to be telling them today, saying in her speech today that he needs to make outreach to those voters.

One of things to note is that, last summer, Nikki Haley did say that she would endorse the eventual nominee of the Republican Party but it has been just really in recent days, Wolf, where she has distanced herself from that pledge. She has said that she doesn't feel like she is obligated to do that because the RNC is not the same RNC as it was last summer because Donald Trump himself hasn't made that pledge.

Now, I do want to know this doesn't mean that Nikki Haley is definitively not going to endorse him ahead of November. What she's doing here is opening a conversation she is trying to put herself in a position of power when it comes to brokering out those voters who have supported her. So, we'll have to watch and see how the former president responds to that.

But we should note that he has not been all together welcoming at all when it come to Nikki Haley supporters in the last few months. He even made comments that MAGA is going to be permanently barring any donors who had been supporting Nikki Haley.

And when we spoke with Nikki Hailey last week, a few reporters, she said that that was a comment that really struck her. It made her concerned about the future of the party. And so we'll have to see what she says about that today and what kind of pitch she wants him to make to those who have been supporting her.

BLITZER: Kylie, we're now told that she will be speaking heading to the microphone within a minute or so, but give us a sense of the mood there among our supporters.

ATWOOD: Well, listen, it's a small crowd in this room. It's people who have been working for Nikki Haley's campaign, some of her supporters here in the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

She's coming on stage, so we'll listen to what she has to say.

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning. Just over a year ago, I launched my campaign for president. When I began, the campaign was grounded in my love for our country. country. Just last week, my mother, a first-generation immigrant, got to vote for her daughter for president, only in America.

I am filled with the gratitude for the outpouring of support we've received from all across our great country, but the time has now come to suspend my campaign. I said I wanted Americans to have their voices heard. I have done that. I have no regrets. And although I will no longer be a candidate, I will not stop using my voice for the things I believe in. [10:05:00]

Our national debt will eventually crush our economy. A smaller federal government is not only necessary for our freedom, it is necessary for ours for us for our survival. The road to socialism is the road to ruin for America.

Our Congress is dysfunctional and only getting worse. It is filled with followers, not leaders. Term limits for Washington politicians are needed now more than ever. Our world is on fire because of America's retreat. Standing by our allies in Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan is a moral imperative, but it's also more than that. If we retreat further, there will be more war, not less.

As important, while we stand strong for the cause of freedom, we must bind together as Americans. We must turn away from the darkness of hatred and division. I will continue to promote all those values, as is the right of every American. I sought the honor of being your president. But in our great country, being a private citizen is privilege enough in itself. And that's a privilege I very much look forward to enjoying.

In all likelihood, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee when our party convention meets in July. I congratulate him and wish him well. I wish anyone well who would be America's president. Our country is too precious to let our differences divide us.

I have always been a conservative Republican and always supported the Republican nominee. But on this question, as she did on so many others, Margaret Thatcher provided some good advice when she said, quote, never just follow the crowd. Always make up your own mind. It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him, and I hope he does that.

At its best, politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people. This is now his time for choosing.

I end my campaign with the same words I began from the book of Joshua. I direct them to all Americans, but especially to so many of the women and girls out there who put their faith in our campaign. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for God will be with you wherever you go.

In this campaign, I have seen our country's greatness. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, America. God bless you.

ACOSTA: All right. That was former South Carolina governor, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley suspending her campaign, withdrawing from this race. She had some very interesting comments there as she was backing out of this campaign, essentially saying that she's not ready to endorse former President Donald Trump, saying that he needs to earn the support of her supporters, and made some very interesting comments, I think, a few moments ago, guys.

We're joined now by Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny, Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, CNN National Political Correspondent Eva McKend.

But one of the things that you heard Nikki Haley saying just a few moments ago, Wolf, was that America needs to stand with Ukraine.

BLITZER: She was very, very strong on the international issues. She said specifically that she needs -- the U.S. needs to support Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. She went at the specifics articulating that. And I also thought even though she didn't formally endorse Trump, she came pretty close to doing so when she said the time has now come to suspend my campaign.

And as you know, Jeff Zeleny, the word suspend is specific. It's a legal word. It's not end my campaign. Suspend my campaign in order to be able to continue to control all those campaign dollars that she raised.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: For sure, suspend is a word that I think in this particular cycle, with all the wild cards, the age of the candidates, the legal cases, and just the fact that she won delegates, she's earned the right to suspend, not end her campaign. So, I think that is important.

But talking about Trump at the end there, this is now the time for his choosing, putting the burden on former President Donald Trump to win over her supporters.

And as we've talked to so many of them over the last several months, who have really grown to admire and love her, yes, there are some Democrats who have popped into her crowds to try and be mischief- making, if you will, or to send a message to Donald Trump, but many Republicans as well.


There are many Republicans.

And I'm thinking back to a conversation I had with one in Charlotte over the weekend. And she told me I hope Donald Trump treats her kindly and brings her into the fold. And I said, what do you think the chances of that are? And she said, all we can do is hope. So, I think now it will be interesting to see how he reacts to this.

But she does not have to give an endorsement at this point. I think I'm not even sure we should talk about that as much. I mean, the reality is few candidates leave the race in an elevated stature. She was the first one in, the last one out and she has emerged in a far, far stronger position, whatever she may do.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If I could just add to that, we're going to have so much time to talk about will he or won't he, will she or won't she and where her supporters are going to go. But I think it's good to take a beat and note that she is the first Republican woman to win a contest, and she won two. Okay, there were a lot of contests that she lost.

ZELENY: And to get this far. BASH: And to get this far. And --

BLITZER: And to raise as much money.

BASH: And to raise as much money.

And I do think that she's used that line since South Carolina a lot on the campaign trail, but the fact that she -- her parents were immigrants and that her mother was able to vote for her daughter for president is just something to kind of let sink in because it is a moment in history.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, Eva, I mean, Nikki Haley does have some leverage in this campaign. I mean, if you look at how she did last night, she did win the state of Vermont. But there was a sizable sort of anti-Trump vote in a lot of these contests. And what she's essentially saying is I'm going to be holding back on some of those supporters. You're not getting them yet, Donald Trump, unless you start to extend the olive branch a little bit, which is not really his forte.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: She was clear that he is going to have to earn the support from her and her supporters. I was always struck. I've been to many of her rallies all across the country, South Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, everywhere. And time and time again, you would meet Democrats at her rallies, independents, Republicans who had supported Trump in 2016, and then voted for Biden in 2020.

And I think in this polarized environment, it takes a certain degree of political skill to be able to bring Democrats into the fold, to be able to attract this type of centrist voters. And so, yes, she is going to have a big role to play in the months ahead.

ACOSTA: And some of those Nikki Haley supporters may not go back to Donald Trump, Wolf. They just might not.

BLITZER: I thought it was the closest she came to actually coming close to endorsing him, Trump, was when she said, I congratulate him, referring to Trump, and wish him well. Those were her words.

ACOSTA: Yes. And she's had a lot to say about Donald Trump during this campaign. And so she may have to start dialing things back to -- I mean, Dana, one of the questions that I had listening, and Wolf is absolutely right, is she leaving the door open to some extent to the possibility of being his running mate? Might that --

BASH: I mean --

ACOSTA: You don't do a whole lot of walking back.

BLITZER: There's a lot of videotape of stuffs that she showed about him and stuff that he said about her.

BASH: That's true.

BLITZER: That would be extraordinary, yes. BASH: That's true. But that was true of a lot of partners throughout our history, maybe even more vitriol between the two of them.

But the next thing that she said, Wolf, when she -- Jim, one of you just said that, she said, you know, I wish him well, as I would for anybody who would be our president.


BLITZER: She couched it.

BASH: She couched it.

ZELENY: Close the door to being a third party candidate. Perhaps that is the most significant thing here as well, she said, I'm a Republican.

So, I'm told going forward she does plan to play a role trying to shape this party. She does believe that this sort of, you know, isolationist view that has really emerged in the Republican Party is not good for the country. If you look at the span of her career from, she rose as a Tea Party candidate, which, of course, was the precursor to the Trump era. And now this is not her party. So, it's really extraordinary.

But at 52 years old, the question is, is she the past of the party or could she still be the future? And to that question, we do not have an answer today.

BLITZER: We will find out.

Kylie Atwood is over at that Nikki Haley's campaign headquarters over there. Give us a sense, Kylie, of the reaction you're getting, the mood over there.

ATWOOD: Well, listen, it was a small crowd in the room, mostly folks who have worked for her campaign or close to Nikki Haley and live here in her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, but they were cheering quite loudly when she came out on stage.

Her remarks were short. The supporters in the room here have had a long night because most of them were monitoring the results from Super Tuesday as they were coming in, results that made it clear that Nikki Haley was going to have to suspend her campaign, as she just did.

It is important to note, however, that she is playing up her leverage.


Yes, she said that she congratulated former President Trump, who will now be the nominee of the party. She said that she would wish well to anyone who would be the next president of the United States. But as we were told ahead of this speech, she also said that Trump is going to have to earn the support of those who voted for her. And we'll have to watch to see how that plays out. She also made it very clear that she is not ready, even though she has lost this Republican presidential primary. She is not ready to give up on her vision for the future of the Republican Party, for shaping the Republican Party. She called again for term limits, for politicians. She called for conservative fiscal policy. That's what she has called for time and time again. She also said that there is a moral imperative for the United States to stand with its allies, calling into question that isolationist policy that we have seen some Republicans begin to embrace.

So, it's very clear where she stands on the issues, the issues where she disagrees with former President Trump. And because she hasn't outright endorsed him today, she is giving herself an open door to continue being critical of him and, of course, watching to see how he engages with her voters.

Now, what we don't know right now is if she's reached out to former President Trump or if she plans to. That will be a question that we will continue to ask those around her, but today, suspending her campaign after she became the first female Republican woman to win two primaries as part of the primary contest for president. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kylie, stand by. You know, Jim, it was interesting when Nikki Haley said, it's now up to Trump to earn the votes, and I hope he does that.


BLITZER: That was significant, I think.

ACOSTA: That's going to be a big moment if those two can make some peace after all that was said.

And we should note, just in the last couple of minutes, Wolf, a statement from President Biden released by the Biden campaign.

I do want to go to Kristen Holmes in just a moment, but Biden, the president, trying to get those Nikki Haley supporters before Donald Trump can get those Nikki Haley supporters, saying Donald Trump made it clear, he doesn't want Nikki Haley supporters. I want to be clear, there is a place for them in my campaign, very telling, absolutely.

Let me go to Kristen Holmes, who joins us now from West Palm Beach, Florida. Kristen, before we've even heard from the former president, the current president has weighed in, and he wants those Nikki Haley supporters.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, now we've heard from the former president as well.

Before I read you this statement, I just want to remind our viewers and everyone what the thing we've been saying over and over again, which is what Haley said, now it is time for Donald Trump to reach out and earn those Republican voters who don't support him.

While she was speaking, Donald Trump went after Nikki Haley over Super Tuesday, not address her dropping out, but this is what he said. Nikki Haley got trounced last night in record-setting fashion, despite the fact that Democrats, for reasons unknown, are allowed to vote in Vermont and various other Republican primaries. Much of her money came from the radical left Democrats, as did many of her votes, almost 50 percent, according to the polls.

At this point, I hope she stays in the race and fights it out until the end. I'd like to thank my family, friends, and the great Republican Party for helping me produce by far the most successful Super Tuesday in history, and would further like to invite all of the Haley supporters to join the greatest movement in the history of our nation. Biden is the enemy. He is destroying our country. Make America great again.

This is his reach out to those Haley supporters. We'll wait to see if we hear from him again now that she's officially dropped out. This was sent while she was speaking. But it clearly is a different message than what Nikki Haley was sending. One of the things that you mentioned, Jim, it would be very interesting to see if the two of them could make amends moving forward.

One thing to be clear about, Donald Trump has had a problem with Nikki Haley long before it got this contentious in this Republican primary. He has been talking privately, negatively, about her since she called him and said that she would be entering the presidential race. Even before that, there were issues that he had privately with Nikki Haley because she came out against January 6th.

So, the likelihood of some kind of rekindling here seems very small that they would come back together. But, again, the messages could not be more different. He is going on the attack.

And I will tell you, talking to some of his advisors and allies leading up to this morning after we had learned that Haley would be dropping out, they were waiting to go on the offense. They thought she was going to come out and trash Donald Trump, which she didn't do. But, clearly, this was a response to that preemptive thinking that she was going to go out there and trash Donald Trump.

And he got out there saying that he trounced her or that she got trounced and really went on the attack rather than trying to invite her supporters.


And now, of course, there's a line there at the end that says, all the supporters welcome them to join me, but that comes after he said that her supporters were also Democrats and on the radical left.

So, I think that, you know, this is what you could expect to hear from Donald Trump. I am told as of now there aren't plans for him to go to a camera to give any remarks. They were planning something when he meets that delegate threshold to become the presumptive nominee. But as of now, just expect to see him on social media and perhaps more of this. Not sure if the tone will change now that we've actually heard from Nikki Haley and it wasn't an offensive speech, but this is what his initial reaction is to Haley right now.

ACOSTA: Fascinating.

BLITZER: Interesting, very different reactions from Biden and from Trump, Eva, didn't you think?

MCKEND: Right. In Biden's reaction, he says that he wants these supporters, and that though they may have policy disagreements, this is about the fundamental issues, preserving democracy, respect for the Constitution. And, actually, that is what you heard from some Republicans that showed up to her rallies, when you would say, well, ultimately, if the contest comes between Trump and Biden.

Many of them said, you know, I would hold my nose and I will support Biden. Because, ultimately, I'm just too worried about what a second Trump term could mean. I'm concerned that he doesn't have respect for our institutions. And so you hear Biden off the bat, leaning right into those anxieties.

BLITZER: I don't think -- and you covered Trump for a long time. I wasn't surprised by his strong words and very critical words of Nikki Haley, who just suspended her campaign.

ACOSTA: Yes, all caps, Wolf, Nikki Haley got trounced last night in record-setting fashion. I mean, I guess he's not saying that this was rigged on Super Tuesday. He's -- I guess he's confident in what took place last night across the country and all these different battleground states.

I mean, Dana Bash, I mean, obviously, this what Donald Trump does. But you have to wonder, to Wolf's point, I mean how does he get Nikki Haley supporters? Eva is absolutely right, and some of these close battleground seats, Jeff Zeleny, you know this all too well, it may come down to these Nikki Haley supporters who say, you know what -- And you can call them Nikki Haley supporters. They're just -- they're sort of never Trump Republicans who are just not going to be comfortable with Donald Trump ever as president and they're going to vote for Joe Biden.

BASH: What we saw from Donald Trump with that post was him being a sore winner. And he can't get past himself in these moments in order to do what he needs to do strategically, politically with people like Nikki Haley. But you know who can? The people around him.

So, as, I mean, this sort of juxtaposition, as he's doing his thing with his phone on his social media platform, his campaign puts out a Trump alert, ranking Trump Alert, saying very specifically, Nikki Haley drops out, it's time to for us to unite as a party and defeat Donald Trump -- I mean, excuse me, defeat Joe Biden. Yes. So they're on message. And as they try to raise money, which he desperately needs, it's the candidate, former president's message that is obviously the loudest.

ZELENY: His response on social media say reminded me of his New Hampshire response when we sat at Manchester and really saw him have a tantrum at being a winner, a sore winner indeed. We will see how all this comes together.

There's no doubt that some Haley voters are going to put the Republican jerseys on and support him. But I've talked to as many of them as Eva has, and we heard clear that they voted for Trump once and they want to turn the page.

So, we will see. That's what this campaign will be about for 244 days. but it's extraordinary that, really, 51 days after the voting began in the Iowa caucuses, here we are, a rematch is brewing. But of all the wild cards, one that we probably wouldn't have expected is the Nikki Haley supporter wild card as well. We'll see where their voters do in the coming weeks.

BLITZER: We're getting a reaction from the Republican National Committee. Kristen Holmes is getting that reaction. Update our viewers on the breaking news.

HOLMES: Yes. Wolf, this is actually a really big deal given what it means for the party as a whole. So, we've just gotten a statement from the chairwoman of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, that congratulates Donald Trump. It says, congratulations to President Donald Trump on his huge primary victory. Also very gracious, it says, I'd also like to congratulate Nikki Haley for running a hard fought campaign and becoming the first woman to win a Republican primary contest.

Now, it also says that he is now the presumptive nominee. That is a big deal. You just heard Dana say this. He needs money. One thing the RNC is very good at, raising money. This means that Donald Trump, that RNC can fully back him because they have this neutrality clause, which means they won't get behind a candidate, even though we have seen a lot of support for Donald Trump within the RNC, they can actually get behind him. He can start using their infrastructure in various states. He could start using their cash in various states, their donor list.


All of that is a big deal for the former president, particularly given that one of the reasons they were so annoyed Nikki Haley was staying in the race was because they weren't getting access to all of this, include Nikki Hailey was stay in this race, was that they were not getting the access to all of this, including her donors, which is what they're also hoping for in terms of money.

The other thing to watch here is that Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman, has said she would step down, she's leaving, after Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee. He has nominated Michael Whatley, he's out of North Carolina, chairman of GOP party there, someone who fought to overturn the 2020 election results. He has also nominated his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, to be co-chair of the RNC and is planning on instating one of the top heads of his campaign, Chris LaCivita, as the chief operating officer in the RNC.

All of this is a very big deal because what we talk about is Donald Trump remaking the Republican Party in his image. Now, he is really doing that. We have seen all this coalescing behind him happening much more quickly than we saw back in 2016. Now, he is taking the actual infrastructure of the party, putting his daughter-in-law and someone who actually has his name, people who are his biggest backers, Chris LaCivita, again, a co-campaign manager. And that's not going to end there. We are also told that there are other members of a campaign who are going be going into the RNC to fill in various roles.

So, you're really seeing them align here and getting behind the Republican Party is becoming the Trump Party right now.

ACOST A: Yes. I mean, the RNC is looking more and more like a wing of the Trump Organization, Kristen Holmes. All right, thank you very much.

President Biden, as we were just saying a few moments ago, responding to Haley suspending her campaign. Let me go to Arlette Saenz, who is over at the White House for us.

Arlette, tell us more. I mean, the Biden campaign was pretty fast. Something tells me they might have had some of this typed out before Nikki Haley made that announcement at 10:00 this morning.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jim. And President Biden, in his statement, made a direct appeal for Nikki Haley's supporters, saying in the statements that there is a place for them in this campaign.

Now, the Biden campaign believes that they have some room to potentially tap into moderate and Haley supporters who are turned off by former President Donald Trump. That is something the president spoke to in a statement saying that they had worked to try to -- or some of the things they can coalesce around are fighting for democracy, and also preserving the NATO alliance.

In the statement, the president really went to great lengths to praise Nikki Haley for the role that she played in this campaign, specifically in calling out the former president. He said, it takes a lot of courage to run for president, that's especially true in today's Republican Party, where so few dare to speak the truth about Donald Trump. Nikki Hailey was willing to talk about Trump, about the chaos that follows him, about his inability to see right from wrong, and his cowering before Vladimir Putin.

Biden goes on to say, Donald Trump made it clear, he doesn't want Nikki Haley supporters. I want to be clear, there is a place for them in my campaign. Biden was perhaps even more explicit in a tweet that he sent out moments ago as well, where he said, quote, you don't have to agree with me on everything to know, MAGA extremism is threat to this country, ad then he highlights the fact that the former president attacked Nikki Haley's supporters, calling Nikki saying that those who contribute to his campaign would be barred from the MAGA movement.

And this really highlights one of the tasks and challenges ahead for the Biden campaign, as they're trying to make more up more ground with voters heading into November. The Biden campaigns officials do believe there is a world where they can peel off some of these Haley supporters who are frustrated and don't want to see Trump secure a second term. I'm also told when it comes to fundraising, they believe that they could also tap into some of Nikki Haley's donor universe as well.

And this really sets up the high stakes moment that the president will be facing tomorrow as he prepares for a State of the Union Address. The president has been huddling with his team here at the White House, trying to put the finishing touches on that speech, which will now have an even bigger audience, especially is trying to make a more broad appeal to voters, not just Democrats, but also Republicans, including some of these Nikki Haley supporters.

ACOSTA: All right, the fight for those Nikki Haley supporters is on, Wolf.

BLITZER: I thought Nikki Haley was very polite and gracious in her comments. Compare those with Trump, who was still very much, Dana, as you and I well know, as all of us know, he still remains in the attack mode.

BASH: It was on brand.


BASH: I think that's maybe the most concise way to put what we saw on Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: And then some.

BASH: Yes, on brand. And, again, obviously, and we hear this from Kristen all the time talking to the Trump campaign, the people around him now are -- it's a far different campaign from what you covered in 2016, from we covered in 2020.

And part of it is that this is the third cycle with Donald Trump as a politician and as candidate. Everybody knows what they're going to get. And so their challenge is to try to work around him knowing that he isn't always going to be maybe even rarely going to on the message that they want him to be on.