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Haley’s case against Trump is a 2016 throwback

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Nikki Haley South Carolina
Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event on in Summerville, S.C., on Tuesday.Allison Joyce / AFP - Getty Images

Happening this Wednesday: Democrats win NY-3 special, flipping seat formerly held by George Santos… House Republicans impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by a narrow 214-213 vote… President Joe Biden calls Donald Trump’s NATO remarks “un-American”… Trump campaigns in South Carolina… And Nikki Haley, in interview with NBC’s Craig Melvin, calls Trump “more diminished than he was.”

But FIRST… Donald Trump’s opposition is accusing him of demeaning the military, assailing spouses, and using the Republican Party for his own gain.

Here’s former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in an interview with NBC’s Craig Melvin: “If you don’t know the value of our men and women in uniform, if you don’t know the sacrifice that they go through, why should I — as a military spouse and all our military families — trust you to know that you’re going to keep them out of harm’s way?” 

Her comments come amid Trump’s flip remarks about NATO, and as he’s turned attacks on Haley’s husband, a combat veteran serving overseas, into a mainstay on the stump. But we’ve been here before, right? Remember the attacks on John McCain and the Khan family? Or on Heidi Cruz? And even on NATO.

And on the trail in 2016, Haley, who had endorsed Marco Rubio in South Carolina, repeatedly criticized Trump with similar remarks about Trump and the military

But then remember when Haley still served in Trump’s administration and spoke at his convention in 2020

She told Craig Melvin on Tuesday that “The problem now is, he is not the same person he was in 2016,” she continued. “He is unhinged; he is more diminished than he was.” 

But less than four years ago, when President Joe Biden levied virtually identical charges about Trump and his comments about military veterans, it was Haley jumping to Trump’s defense

Call it the Trump time warp — where so much of the current discussion surrounding Trump seems straight out of 2016, 2018 or 2020. 

That even extends to the controversy over Trump’s NATO remarks, his scuttling of the Senate immigration deal and many other Trump 2024 storylines. 

This “been here, done that” dynamic is a major weakness for Trump, because so many minds are already made up about the former president. 

But it’s also a possible strength — due to how numb voters and the political process have become to ALL of his controversies, as well as how GOP critics tend to USUALLY come back to support him.

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 214

That’s how many House Republicans voted Wednesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, narrowly impeaching him after the effort failed last week, per NBC’s Scott Wong. Three House Republicans — Ken Buck of Colorado, Tom McClintock of California and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin — voted against impeachment. 

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said Mayorkas “has willfully and consistently refused to comply with federal immigration laws, fueling the worst border catastrophe in American history. He has undermined public trust through multiple false statements to Congress, obstructed lawful oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, and violated his oath of office.”

Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg slammed the vote, saying, “Without a shred of evidence or legitimate constitutional grounds, and despite bipartisan opposition, House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country.”

Wong reports that the impeachment effort is likely to fail in the Democratically-controlled Senate, where 67 senators would need to vote to convict Mayorkas. 

Eyes on November: Democrats are in a New York state of mind

Yes, special elections are special. But former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi’s victory in Tuesday’s special election to replace former New York GOP Rep. George Santos still has some lessons for both parties ahead of November.

Suozzi defeated Republican Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, in the 3rd District race, leading Pilip by 8 points with 97% of precincts reporting as of 6:30 a.m. ET, per NBC’s Decision Desk. 

While Democrats attacked Pilip on issues such as abortion and Social Security and attempted to tie her to Santos, Republicans launched a barrage of attacks on Suozzi on immigration and border security. 

Souzzi quickly responded to the attacks, launching his own campaign ads on the issue and stressing his support for the doomed bipartisan border deal, which Pilip opposed.

“This race was centered on immigration and the economy, much like the issues all across the country,” Suozzi said. “We won this race — we, you won this race — because we addressed the issues and we found a way to bind our divisions.” 

Even before Suozzi’s victory, Democrats suggested that Suozzi’s decision to directly address GOP attacks could be an effective strategy moving forward, especially in states like New York where Republicans found success in 2022 on issues including crime and inflation. 

"Democrats learned the hard way that you can’t ignore voter anxieties,” former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, a former 3rd District congressman and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, told NBC News in a phone interview last week. “You have to lean into them and offer some common sense solutions and Suozzi’s been doing that."

In other campaign news ...

Donald takes Manhattan: Trump will attend a hearing Thursday related to his New York trial over hush money payments he allegedly paid to an adult film actress who said she had an affair with him. 

Judgment day: NBC News’ Adam Reiss and Dareh Gregorian report that a verdict is expected Friday in Trump’s other New York case, the $370 million civil lawsuit against him and his company. 

On the airwaves: Haley’s campaign is upping its South Carolina ad buy and launching a new TV ad arguing that a Trump presidency would lead to higher taxes and a “Russian victory,” per NBC’s Greg Hyatt. 

Saying Aloha: The Washington Post reports that Trump has spoken to former Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has become an ardent critic of many in her political party, about his plans for the Defense Department in a potential second term. 

Joining Team Trump: Omeed Malik, a former Wall Street fundraiser who supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now planning to raise money for Trump, CNBC’s Brian Schwartz and NBC’s Dasha Burns report. 

Thanks but no thanks: Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, told Axios he does not want to join the Trump administration again if the former president wins in November. 

Their next revolution: Our Revolution, the progressive outside group born out of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, is rallying supporters to vote “uncommitted” in Michigan’s Democratic primary as a protest of Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Gaza. 

Traffic stop: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig ended his bid for Senate as a Republican, telling The Detroit News “fundraising is a challenge right now” ahead of the signature gathering deadline. He is keeping the door open to a bid for Detroit mayor next year, however. 

Pa. Dems retain their edge: Democrats won a suburban Philadelphia special election Tuesday that allowed them to hold onto their slim majority in the state House. 

The Green Bay Mappers: Wisconsin’s GOP Legislature OK'd new state legislative lines Tuesday, months after the state Supreme Court, now controlled by liberals, struck down the previous lines, pending the governor’s approval.

Referendum or choice: NBC’s Chuck Todd explores a potential rematch between Biden and Trump, writing that the race could be a “battle between the two likely major party nominees to make this campaign a referendum on the other guy.”  

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world: 

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., wants to meet in person with Biden before moving forward with a measure that provides funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, NBC’s Julie Tsirkin, Monica Alba and Megan Lebowitz report. 

Inflation lowered to 3.1% in January, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released from the hospital and resumed his duties after being hospitalized for a bladder issue, and will work from home before returning to work in person later this week.