Trump defeats Haley in her home state of South Carolina, raising questions about how long she can hang on


Former President Donald Trump defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in her home-state primary Saturday, keeping him on track for his third straight GOP presidential nomination — and a November rematch with President Biden, the Democrat who beat him in 2020.

The Associated Press called South Carolina for Trump at 7 p.m. EST, just as the last polls closed there.

Trump wasted no time Saturday in declaring victory, quickly taking the stage at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia, the state’s capital. “This was a little sooner than we anticipated — an even bigger win that we anticipated,” Trump said.

Haley says she’ll keep campaigning despite loss

Past candidates have tended to exit the race after losing their home state; in 2016, for example, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ended his bid the night Trump bested him there.

But Haley was clear, both before and after Saturday’s primary: “I’m not going anywhere,” she vowed — at least not yet.

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“On Sunday, I’ll still be running for president,” Haley, who served as United Nations ambassador under Trump, said earlier this week. “I’m campaigning every day until the last person votes.”

“In the 10 days after South Carolina, another 21 states and territories will vote,” she continued. “People have a right to have their voices heard. And they deserve a real choice, not a Soviet-style election where there’s only one candidate, and he gets 99% of the vote.”

Understanding Haley’s argument

Haley has a point. In a presidential primary election, candidates compete in a months-long, state-by-state calendar of primaries and caucuses. Whoever gets the most votes in a specific state is typically awarded the most delegates, and whoever is first to collect a majority of the total available delegates — or whoever remains after everyone else has dropped out — becomes the party’s “presumptive” nominee.

But runner-up candidates can win delegates, too. Despite Trump’s substantial lead in the delegate count, neither has anywhere near the 1,215 they need to clinch the GOP nomination. And even then, the race won’t technically end until the last states vote and the delegates formalize the nomination at their party’s summer convention — which, for the GOP, starts July 15 in Milwaukee.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after casting her vote in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, U.S., February 24, 2024. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Nikki Haley looks on after casting her vote in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. February 24, 2024. Reuters/Brian Snyder

Yet Haley’s loss in South Carolina — more so than her previous defeats in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — makes it plain that her path to the nomination will only get narrower from here on out.

Haley had every advantage in the Palmetto State. She was born in Bamberg, a small town 55 miles south of Columbia. She graduated from Clemson. She served three terms in the state legislature and two terms in the governor’s mansion, where her approval rating hit 80%.

Stumping in Iowa and New Hampshire last winter, Haley often spoke of her “sweet state of South Carolina” as a kind of firewall — a place that could propel its native daughter into future primaries with renewed momentum.

And true to that vision, Haley campaigned hard there in recent weeks, blasting Van Halen’s “Right Now” as her “Beast of the Southeast” bus tour rolled up to stops throughout the state — where she would disembark and criticize Trump (on his attitude toward Russia, on his chaotic temperament, on his expensive legal woes) more aggressively than ever.

Overall, Haley’s campaign and her two allied super political action committees dropped $8.4 million on advertising in South Carolina, according to Bloomberg. Trump’s team spent next to nothing.

What comes next in the GOP primary battle

This same pattern is set to play out with increasing frequency in the next phase of the GOP nominating contest. After South Carolina comes Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states and 1 territory — including the big delegate prizes of California and Texas — will weigh in.

Haley’s team has argued that some of these states hold open primaries, like South Carolina. But as the Palmetto State showed, registered Republicans still dominate the party’s primary electorate — and in most places, Haley will have an even harder time swaying them than she did in her home state.

A woman with a dog stands in line to cast her vote in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election, at the Jennie Moore Elementary School, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, U.S., February 24, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A woman with a dog stands in line to cast her vote in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election. February 24, 2024. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

In Michigan, the next state on the calendar, Trump led by 60 points in the only public poll released this year. In California — the largest state to vote on Super Tuesday — Trump is ahead by 52 points. And nationally, the former president is lapping his former UN ambassador 79% to 14% among potential Republican primary voters, according to the most recent Yahoo News/YouGov sounding.

Winner-take-all contests, in which the candidate who wins the most votes gets all the delegates, are about to become more common as well.

All of which means Trump’s lead is likely to explode over the next month. In a memo shared with the press Tuesday, senior Trump advisors estimated that even if Haley keeps performing as well as she did in New Hampshire, her strongest state so far, Trump will secure the 1,215 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination on March 19. If Haley underperforms her Granite State levels, they added, Trump will hit the 1,215 mark a week earlier.

Haley would be free to continue running at that point. Last month, her campaign and super PAC raised a combined $23.6 million — $7.4 million more than Trump’s. As long as anti-Trump donors keep contributing to Haley’s candidacy, she can keep giving voice to their concerns — and holding out, perhaps, for some seismic legal shift to upend the race.

“Instead of asking me what states I’m gonna win, why don’t we ask how he’s gonna win a general election after spending a full year in a courtroom?” Haley said in an interview earlier this week with the Associated Press,.

“People are not looking six months down the road when these court cases have taken place. He’s going to be in a courtroom all of March, April, May and June. How in the world do you win a general election when these cases keep going and the judgments keep coming?”



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