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Nikki Haley slams potential GOP contenders, and Trump and George W. Bush at donor retreat

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley mocked the collection of GOP politicians who are still considering a bid for the presidency but haven't yet announced they're running.

"Don't wait around for the guys who are sitting on the sidelines unable to make up their mind," she said Saturday at an exclusive donor retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, where the Club for Growth, a conservative group, is holding a donor retreat with multiple potential presidential candidates. 

"Once I decided I was going to run, I didn't see the point in waiting. When it comes to saving America, being decisive matters," she said at the beginning of her remarks. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke on Thursday at the retreat, while former Vice President Mike Pence addressed the gathering on Friday. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, whom Haley first appointed to the position in 2012, is also speaking on Saturday. 

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also spoke at the retreat. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin were both invited to the Club for Growth retreat but couldn't attend, according to a source familiar with the planning. 

But Haley's focus on Republicans didn't stop at her potential primary opponents. She also took issue with "the last two Republican presidents" who, she noted, both added to the national debt, though she didn't explicitly name former presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush. 

"Lots of Republican politicians love spending and wasting taxpayer money almost as much as Democrats. The last two Republican presidents added more than $10 trillion to the national debt. Think about that. A third of our debt happened under just two Republicans," she said. 

"If we nominate another big spender in 2024, we're going to lose," she added. 

Former President Donald Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago residence is just a few miles from the Club for Growth's retreat, did not receive an invitation to the gathering. Trump is the keynote speaker on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and publicly clashed with the conservative economic group in 2022 over congressional primary candidates. 

Ramaswamy has launched his presidential campaign — for now he's longshot in the race, but DeSantis, Pence, Scott and Sununu have not yet declared they're running. Several of them have, however, been visiting early presidential primary states or plan to in the coming weeks.

In her remarks, Haley also suggested Club donors look at supporting primary challengers against the 158 House Republicans who voted for the recent omnibus spending bill. She derided them as "squishy Republicans" and criticized them and blamed them for getting "the ball rolling" for "trillion-dollar pandemic blowouts." 

"Don't let the media tell you Republicans and Democrats can't work together. They always seem to work just fine when they're spending your money," she said. 

Haley also said she's "not afraid" to talk about "saving" Social Security and Medicare. The question of whether the two programs should be reformed has exposed some rifts in the 2024 field, with Haley and Pence arguing changes are needed to keep the programs alive in the long term. 

In his remarks on Friday, Pence told the donor retreat that the party "cannot abandon our commitment to fiscal responsibility and that includes common-sense reforms to Social Security and Medicare."

"I can't walk by the debt crisis our nation's facing and neither can you," he said. This was first reported by Fox News.

Since launching his third bid, Trump has said he would not support cuts to the programs and has used the issue to attack DeSantis.

Haley also repeatedly went after "pro-union" politicians, a dig at Democratic President Joe Biden who prides himself on his ties to unions, and said she would bring her "union buster" reputation from her tenure as South Carolina governor to the White House.

A day before, Haley addressed the CPAC crowd in near Washington, D.C., where she argued she represents the generational change needed for the GOP. Trump and Ramaswamy were the only notable presidential candidates who attended the gathering, with DeSantis and Pence declining their invites.

Haley's presence resulted in mixed reactions at the conference, a Trump-friendly gathering featuring several former members of his administration and allies. Trump supporters chanted "Trump! Trump! Trump!" as she was leaving the conference. 

In his remarks to the retreat on Thursday, DeSantis framed himself as a new leader for the party who doesn't shy from "culture war" issues such as critical race theory and sexuality being taught in schools. 

"I'm going on offense," DeSantis said in a 40-minute speech, according to a source in the room. "Some of these Republicans, they just sit back like potted plants and they let the media define the terms of the debate, they let the left define the terms of debate, they take all this incoming because they're not making anything happen."

According to a source familiar with his remarks this evening, Scott will continue his rhetoric from his "Faith in America" tour that recently stopped in Iowa.

During his tour, Scott has said Biden and Democrats have provided "a blueprint to ruin America" and has painted himself as a figure that could unite the party and the country.

"Will we be a country that chooses grievance or greatness?" he's expected to say in his remarks.

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