The former South Carolina governor, who served as ambassador to the U.N. under Trump, also highlighted that the former president added “$8 trillion” to the national debt during his four years in office
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and a Republican candidate for president, did not hold back when it came to her thoughts on former president Donald Trump at Wednesday's GOP debate, calling him "the most disliked politician in America."
“It is time for a new generational conservative leader," Haley, 51, said during the debate, which aired on Fox News. "We have to look at the fact that three-quarters of Americans don't want a rematch between Trump and Biden. And we have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America. We can't win a general election that way."
Though all eight candidates present at the debate are challenging Trump for the nomination, few offered criticism of the former president, who is leading in GOP primary polls but remains broadly unpopular with the national public.
Trump himself did not participate, having announced days earlier he planned to skip the event.
The 45th president remained a major topic of discussion among candidates on stage, which included Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Elsewhere in the debate, Haley criticized Trump for his handling of federal spending during his White House tenure, saying, "The truth is that Biden didn't do this to us, our Republicans did this to us too."
She continued, saying that DeSantis, Scott and Pence "all voted to raise the debt limit."
"They need to stop the spending, they need to stop the borrowing, they need to eliminate the earmarks that Republicans brought back in," she added. "And Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for this."
Despite Haley's criticism of Trump, she confirmed in the debate that she would still back him if he was selected as the Republican nominee.
When the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they would support a 2024 Trump nomination, even if he was convicted of a crime, all onstage raised their hands, except for Hutchinson, 72.
Christie, 60, later clarified that he would not support Trump if he was the nominee.
"Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct," Christie said. "Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States."
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Trump from January 2017 until her resignation in December 2018.
Since leaving his administration, she has both embraced and pushed back against Trump, at one point calling his rhetoric "so unnecessary" and at another saying he "tells the world what it needs to hear."
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Now on the heels of his four historic indictments, Trump's support has not waned among those in his party, with polls showing the former president sitting about 40 points ahead of the next closest Republican candidate, DeSantis.
Nationally, however, his popularity is a different story.
In a Pew survey published last month, 63% of Americans said they have an unfavorable opinion of the former president, while 35% view him favorably (those numbers are little changed from a year ago, when Trump’s rating stood at 60% unfavorable).
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