'We don't anoint kings': Defying Trump, Nikki Haley pledges to continue campaign

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By Gram Slattery

GREENVILLE, South Carolina (Reuters) - Republican candidate Nikki Haley pledged to press ahead with her long-shot presidential bid on Tuesday, saying "we don't anoint kings in this country" and that she had no intention of dropping out after Saturday's nominating contest in South Carolina.

"I feel no need to kiss the ring. And I have no fear of Trump's retribution," she said in a speech in Greenville, South Carolina, where she is expected to lose to former President Donald Trump in this weekend's primary in her home state.

Trump has an overwhelming lead in national polls, and his allies have ratcheted up pressure on Haley to drop out of the race after she lost the first four nominating contests by huge margins. Her insistence on continuing her White House bid has angered Trump's campaign, which has mocked her and threatened to cut off donors who continue to give her money.

During her speech on Tuesday, Haley slammed Trump for being too old, divisive and self-absorbed to be an effective leader. She also sharply criticized his history of insulting military veterans and appeared to choke up when discussing her husband, Michael Haley, a service member who is deployed overseas.

Still, she added that she was not a "Never Trumper." She said she had a "handful" of problems with the former president, while she said she had "countless" issues with Democratic President Joe Biden.

"We don't anoint kings in this country. We have elections," Haley said in her speech. "That’s why I refuse to quit. South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere."

Haley, who served as governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, is down some 60 points to Trump nationally, according to an average maintained by polling and analysis website FiveThirtyEight. Earlier on Tuesday, Trump's campaign released a memo arguing that the former president was on track to mathematically clinch the nomination by March 12 based on current data.

Haley used the speech in part to respond to criticism that she is hurting Trump by staying in the race. Most of Trump's issues, she said, were self-inflicted.

If she were campaigning with the hope of raising her profile to set up another presidential run in four years, Haley said she would have dropped out already.

Haley's deep-pocketed allies have begun to turn their attention to several states and territories that vote in early March, some of which have a high proportion of well-educated suburbanites. That demographic made up Haley's core base of support in the opening primary contests.

Haley's campaign itself has rolled out leadership teams in at least seven states that vote on March 5 - a primary date known as "Super Tuesday" - as well as a leadership team in Georgia, where voters go to the polls on March 12.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery, editing by Ross Colvin and Bill Berkrot)