GILBERT, S.C. (AP) — Standing inside a rustic barn a short distance from the state capital, Henry McMaster surprised many South Carolina Republicans with an endorsement seven years ago. Donald Trump for President.
McMaster, then lieutenant governor, became the highest-ranking state official to endorse Trump in 2016. The event was in Lexington County, the then-governor's adopted political home. nikki haleyWho has repeatedly criticized Trump and supported Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Trump would win the 2016 primary election in South Carolina and ultimately win the presidency. After campaigning against him, Haley accepted his nomination as United Nations Ambassador, allowing McMaster to become governor.
That complicated history is unfolding as Haley makes a spirited effort to become Leading Republican Alternative to trump. His strategy is focused on strong performances in next month's Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, before much of the campaign's focus shifts to South Carolina, where the Feb. 24 contest is the last chance for anyone other than Trump to prove he has it. Maybe they can survive.
But her home state has grown closer to Trump in the nearly decade since she last ran for state office, threatening her ability to use her local roots to achieve the victory she promised. It is done.
"Ten years is an eternity when all politics is national," said former state GOP chairman Matt Moore. “Trump attracted thousands of low-frequency voters who have reshaped South Carolina politics. “Many of them did not or still do not focus on state-level issues.”
The former president has the support of almost every major South Carolina Republican this time. Sen lindsey grahamwho ran against Trump, suggested he would destroy the Republican Party and openly questioned McMaster's thinking over his 2016 endorsement, is now a close ally of the former president and worked with McMaster on Trump's state campaigns. Is co-chairing.
South Carolina's lieutenant governor, state treasurer, attorney general and three of its six Republican US House members all support Trump. The only congressional representative to support Haley is Ralph Norman, a longtime ally.
Trump drew an estimated 50,000 people to a boisterous Fourth of July rally in Pickens, South Carolina, in the highly conservative upstate area. Haley, meanwhile, set a campaign record last month with a gathering of 2,500 people on the state's South Coast, which is known for its wealthier and more traditional conservative group.
John Reed, a Hilton Head Island businessman who donated to Haley's 2010 campaign, endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020. But he is supporting Haley this time because he says she contrasts Trump's "divisive and abusive" stance.
"I think Nikki is the best out of them because of the abilities and experience she has," Reed said. “Trump's narcissism and pride and arrogance are too much for the office.”
Losing South Carolina would be a major blow to Haley's campaign, which is counting on incumbent rivals like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and gaining momentum from people open to a Trump alternative. Home state primary defeats have devastated past campaigns, including that of Rubio, who dropped out of the 2016 primary after a crushing defeat to Trump in Florida. Senator Elizabeth Warren has dropped out of the 2020 Democratic race after losing multiple primaries in a single day, including in her home state of Massachusetts.
Lexington County, where McMaster endorsed Trump, is Haley's adopted political home and is the area she has represented in the state Legislature. She returned to the same rustic barn in April to hold a rally for her presidential campaign.
He was little known when he launched a bid for governor against three high-profile candidates, including McMaster, who was running on a message of fiscal responsibility and what he described as strong forces in Columbia. He aligned himself with the "Tea Party" movement that emerged during Pres. Barack Obama's first term.
His major support in that race was sarah palinThe former governor of Alaska, who remained a powerhouse in GOP politics after her 2008 bid for vice president. After being endorsed by Mitt Romney, whose 2008 White House race she had supported, Haley nearly won the GOP primary and was victorious in the runoff.
Haley pointed to several accomplishments during her six years as governor, including bringing economic investment and jobs to the state, requiring companies to verify the employment eligibility of their workers, and supporting voter ID laws. He is perhaps best remembered nationally for helping convince the legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds following a mass shooting in which a white gunman killed eight black church members attending a Bible study. Although Haley had previously rejected the need for flag lowering.
Haley's presidential campaign points to her past popularity in South Carolina, an indication that she will do well when it comes time for voters in her home state to elect her.
Olivia Perez-Cubas said, "South Carolinians first elected Nikki when she was an anti-establishment, conservative candidate for governor." , but twice.”
But Trump transformed Republican politics in South Carolina and nationally.
That includes Lexington County, where the county GOP has been riven for months by a legal battle between the two people claiming to oversee it, a division within the recently elected slate of supporters of Trump's "Make America Great Again" approach. Is.
Michael Burgess, who served as vice chair of the Lexington County GOP and described himself as a "never, ever Trumper," said he saw a trend toward populism in the area in the years following Trump's 2016 election. Felt the change.
“Lexington County is a microcosm of South Carolina,” said Burgess, who teaches AP U.S. History at a local high school. “What we have seen since the 2020 election is a concerted effort by MAGA to take over the county party apparatus, and essentially, when they do so, to oust longtime establishment Reagan Republicans.”
Burgess, who said he voted for neither Trump nor Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 and supported Democrat Joe Biden in 2020, said he initially supported South Carolina Senator Tim Scott in the 2024 GOP primary Was, but now see Haley as the party's best bet. To defeat Trump.
But another man who supported Haley when she ran for office in 2010 now blames her for criticizing Trump in 2016, even though he supported her work as governor.
"When she came out and said, 'We need to ignore a lot of the loud voices,' that kind of really struck me as wrong, because it was those same voices that elected her governor," said Alan Olsen, who added " Had founded the “Tea Party” group in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. "Although I understood what she was doing, it really felt like I was stabbed in the back."
State Representative RJ May, leader of the state House Freedom Caucus, argued that Haley is now an established figure because of her service as governor and then-United Nations ambassador.
He said he doesn't view Trump the same way — even though Trump is now a former president and is running his third campaign for the White House.
"Given the weaponization of the federal government that we're seeing, it's hard to take that path from Donald Trump," said May, who has not endorsed any candidate in the presidential primary. "One thing I don't think you can call Donald Trump an insider."
But there are still people in South Carolina who are waiting for Haley to run for the White House.
At the event in Bluffton, South Carolina, which was attended by 2,500 people, Veronica Wetzel wore a "Nikki 2024" hat, which she said she had purchased several years ago. Now, she said she's ready to vote for Haley because she wants to see Republicans win in November.
"I really don't know if Donald Trump can win," Wetzel said. He further said that he had supported Trump in previous contests. “We need to get somebody in there who can win because the last thing we need right now is to lose this election.”
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