As Nikki Haley barnstorms South Carolina in an effort to prevent Donald Trump from being the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, she’s retracing some of her footsteps from eight years ago — and reusing a lot of the same language. 

At this time in 2016, the then-South Carolina governor was also on the presidential campaign trail, but on behalf of Sen. Marco Rubio, whom she endorsed three days before the South Carolina primary. 

And while much has changed in politics and the Republican Party since then, a look at her speeches introducing Rubio shows just how similar her argument against Trump is now as it was then, before he became the figure that redefined the GOP.

Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio in Chapin, S.C.
Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio in Chapin, S.C., on Feb. 17, 2016.Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images file

While Haley has ended up in a similar position, she took a detour to get there. She accepted a position in Trump’s Cabinet as ambassador to the United Nations just weeks after he was elected, serving for two years after resigning as governor. She went on to boost his re-election effort in 2020. 

But in the two campaigns on either side of 2020, Haley made the case that Trump had a losing streak that created a general election risk for the GOP. It’s a theme she has hit hard recently, saying definitively that “Donald Trump can’t win.”

“He lost in 2018. He lost in 2020. He lost in 2022 and he continues to lose,” Haley said earlier this month in Bluffton, South Carolina. “How many more times do we have to lose until we start to say maybe he’s the problem?”

Eight years ago, Haley made a similar case — but Trump didn’t have a campaign record to go on at that point, so she based it on Trump’s business ventures. 

“We’ve seen it with Trump vodka, we’ve seen it with Trump mortgage, we’ve seen it with all of his Trump endeavors. And right now he’s being sued for fraud with Trump University,” Haley said on Feb. 29, 2016, at a Rubio rally in Atlanta, between the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday. “Every single one of them has failed. And now he wants to run for president. This is not a game. We are not a project.”

On her current campaign, Haley recently began tying Trump to President Joe Biden on issues like age, mental acuity and the fact that both are “tied up in investigations.”

“Both of them are tied up in investigations and all they do is talk about themselves,” she said of Trump and Biden on Feb. 7 in Charleston. 

Eight years ago at that rally in Atlanta, Haley was also noting investigations into Trump — and into eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“We’ve got two presidential candidates who are under investigation,” Haley said. “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.”

Earlier in that Atlanta rally for Rubio, she used the word “bully” to describe Donald Trump, saying: “I told my two little ones to do exactly what Marco Rubio did in the last debate — when a bully hits you, you hit that bully right back.”

Haley made the same case for her now adult children in a recent interview for NBC’s “TODAY,” telling co-host Craig Melvin: “You take on a bully because you don’t want your kids to grow up in a country that’s this divided.”

She made a similar case in her “state of the race” speech earlier this week in Greenville, South Carolina, where she indicated her intention to stay in the race and said she’s “never met a bully I couldn’t take on.”

“I am in this fight. I will take the bruises. I will take the cuts,” Haley said Tuesday, later adding, “All I ask is that you stay with me and go through this with me.”

It’s the same plea Haley made during her endorsement speech for Rubio three days before the South Carolina primary in 2016. 

“This is one of many bruises I will take for Marco Rubio,” she told the crowd in Chapin, South Carolina. “So if I’m going to do that, I need you all to go out on Saturday.”

Trump went on to win the 2016 South Carolina primary later that week, beating Rubio by 10 points and cementing his front-runner status.

Other echoes from 2016 are permeating this year’s South Carolina campaign. Standing on stage alongside Rubio’s fellow South Carolina endorsers on primary night in 2016, Haley took a quick roll call: “When you see [Rep.] Trey Gowdy, when you see [Sen.] Tim Scott, when you see me, we are the start — along with a lot of other people — we’re the start of the new conservative movement that’s going to change this country for the better.”

Some eight years later, Scott announced the end of his own 2024 presidential bid on now-former Rep. Gowdy’s Fox News show. In January, Scott endorsed Trump over Haley, who appointed him to his Senate seat.

Days earlier, Rubio had endorsed Trump, too.

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