Nikki Haley blames Donald Trump for military’s low recruitment numbers

Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley accused former President Donald Trump of mocking the U.S. Armed Forces and said such comments are the cause of low military recruitment in America.

Haley’s comments were in response to Trump’s attacks directed at her husband, Major Michael Haley, who is currently serving a yearlong deployment with the South Carolina Army National Guard in Africa. The former president taunted Haley about her husband being gone at a campaign event on Saturday, telling supporters, “What happened to her husband?”

Speaking with CNN anchor Jake Tapper on Monday, Haley said that her husband was “angry” over Trump’s words, adding, “he and his brothers and sisters, they don’t go there just because for kicks and giggles, they go there because they still believe in this amazing experiment that is America.”

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on February 12, 2024, in Laurens, South Carolina. Haley blamed former President Donald Trump’s comments about the U.S. military for leading to lower recruitment numbers.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

“They’re willing to go and sacrifice their lives and their families because they still believe America is worth fighting for,” Haley continued. “And when anybody mocks it or makes fun of it, it does make them all question like, what’s happening to America? And that’s a very sad state of affairs.

“If you want to see why recruitment is down in the military…it’s because of comments like that,” she added. “It’s because of how America has treated our veterans.”

Trump has been accused in the past of making derogatory comments about U.S. servicemembers. His former chief of staff, John Kelly, said in an exclusive statement to CNN this past fall that Trump has called military personnel and veterans “losers” and “suckers” because “there is nothing in it for them.” The former president dismissed Kelly’s allegations and called him the “dumbest of my Military people.”

Other people have also come to the Haleys’ defense since Trump’s comments this weekend. Republican campaign strategist Scott Jennings said that the former president’s comments are a “below the belt shot,” and called him an “a******.” President Joe Biden also posted about Trump’s comments on X, formerly Twitter, Sunday, writing, “We know he thinks our troops are ‘suckers,’ but this guy wouldn’t know service to his country if it slapped him in the face.”

“If you’re gonna go and criticize a combat veteran, you criticize one veteran, you’re criticizing all of them,” Haley added in her appearance on CNN Monday.

Newsweek reached out to Trump’s campaign via email for comment.

Military recruitment has been on the decline for decades. The number of active-duty personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces has fallen by 39 percent since 1987. Both the Army and the Air Force missed their respective goals by nearly 10,000 recruits in 2023, while the Navy fell short by 6,000.

Pentagon Spokesperson Major General Pat Ryder addressed the low recruitment numbers during a press conference in December 2023, but added that the services are working to adapt to the challenges, including by being “very active and creative in looking at how we can communicate with the public that we serve.”