‘Wherever she came from’: Trump defends promoting false birther claim about Haley

(WASHINGTON) — Former President Donald Trump is defending his recent mangling of GOP primary challenger Nikki Haley’s birth name — saying he’s just having “fun” and he echoed, once again, a false birther claim that Haley is not eligible to run for president because she wasn’t born in the United States, saying “wherever she may come from.”

In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that aired Sunday, Baier asked Trump why he called the former U.N. ambassador “Nimbra” — a butchering of her birth name — in a social media post on Friday. Trump also called her “Nikki ‘Nimrada’ Haley” in a social media post last week.

“I do that with a lot of people, like Hutchinson. I mean, he was polling at zero for about one year, and I called him rather than Asa, I called him Ada Hutchinson, and it just felt good to me,” Trump told Baier. “And with her, it’s just something that came. It’s a little bit of a takeoff on her name. You know, her name, wherever she may come from.”

Haley was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa to Punjabi Sikh parents who were living in South Carolina after emigrating from India in the 1960s. She has said that early on she adopted her middle name as her first name and later took her husband’s last name when they married.

Trump’s campaign shot down that his latest comments about Haley were racist.

“There are no racist undertones, as some suggest,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to ABC News on Monday. “Sounds like those who take offense are engaging in fake outrage. They should get a life and live in the real world.”

To Trump, the nicknames he bestows are a point of pride and enjoyment, he told Baier.

“Some people say I’m very good at that,” Trump said of coming up with nicknames. “But, uh, I can’t get into too many because many of those people that I named like that are Republicans, and we don’t want to bring that up, but, uh, no, it’s just, uh, it’s a takeoff. I have fun with it. And sometimes, to tell you the truth, it’s a very effective tool.”

Both Trump and Haley’s campaigns are working to appeal to voters ahead of the New Hampshire GOP primary on Tuesday. It’s a major test for Haley — Trump’s last remaining GOP primary challenger — who is still polling behind the former president, according to the latest polling averages from 538.

Trump has elevated false conspiracy theories on far-right online forums that Haley is not eligible to run for president because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born. His latest false birther claims to Baier are another racist dog whistle in a history of such language.

Trump’s false claims about Haley’s birthplace are reminiscent of the false birther conspiracy theories he once pushed against Barack Obama in 2011 and Kamala Harris in 2020.

Last week, Haley said at CNN’s town hall that Trump is engaging in name-calling because he feels “threatened” and that it doesn’t bother her. Haley told ABC News that Trump, who touted her accomplishments when she served as U.N. ambassador under him, is “insecure.”

“I think about what he said about me when I was the U.N. ambassador, he said that I was the best U.N. ambassador that America had ever seen. He said I was I was killer. He said I was tough. He said dictators were scared of me,” Haley told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott.

“… This is what he does. When he starts to feel insecure. This is what he does when he feels threatened. I worked with him every day — he starts lashing out at people that he’s fearful of. That’s OK. That’s a good sign to me that shows that we’re moving it shows that he sees what we’re seeing.”

Asked about Trump’s false birther claims, several former GOP presidential candidates — who have since endorsed Trump for president — declined to denounce the comments.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum tried to downplay Trump’s comments on ABC’s “This Week” chalking it up to modern politics.

“I think it’s politics,” Burgum said, adding, “That’s politics around the world, and it’s politics in America.”

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott deflected a direct question from CNN’s Dana Bash about Trump’s nicknames and false birther claims, saying he’s “watching rhetoric on all sides of the issues facing, becoming president.”

Scott, who endorsed Trump Friday, did not directly criticize Trump.

“I would like for all politicians to comport themselves in a way that is consistent with the highest office,” Scott said to Bash.

Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican, said the party, instead of giving the matter attention, should focus on the issues that voters really care about such as a better future with good-paying jobs.

ABC News spoke with voters outside a Trump rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday — and they had mixed responses when asked about Trump mocking Haley’s name.

Max Abramson, a former New Hampshire state representative, said he didn’t like Trump’s name-calling.

“I don’t agree with that,” Abramson said to ABC News. “… I think it’s a negative thing in American politics, and it tends to go to the lowest common denominator.”

Cam Whale from Manchester said he accepts that comments like these are just part of Trump’s personality.

“I don’t take that stuff really too seriously. It’s kind of one part of his personality,” Whale said.

“I care more about actions than what he’s saying,” Whale later said.

Last week, Haley told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade that America is “not a racist country.”

“We’ve never been a racist country,” she repeated.

But Haley — who has not directly called Trump’s recent comments racist — acknowledged that she had faced racism.

“I’m a Brown girl that grew up in a small rural town in South Carolina who became the first female minority governor in history, who became a U.N. ambassador and who is now running for president,” Haley said. “If that’s not the American dream, I don’t know what is.”

ABC News reached out to the Haley campaign for comment. They did not respond by the time of publication.

ABC News’ Soorin Kim contributed to this report.

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