South Carolina primary: Trump’s GOP home field advantage is everywhere


NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump defeated Nikki Haley on Saturday. South Carolina ElementaryA victory that powerfully marked the depth and breadth of his support among Republican primary voters as he defeated his only remaining major opponent in his home state.

Trump also did not have to run a vigorous campaign, making only a few appearances and spending relatively little money. Haley has vowed to stay in the race and plans to visit Michigan, the site of the next primary, on Sunday. But the defeat further weakened the rationale for his candidacy, barring something unexpected that could derail the former president.

Here are some findings from the South Carolina leg of the campaign:

All (Republican) politics is national

Haley talked about his prospects in "my beloved state of South Carolina" for months. Twice elected governor, initially as a Tea Party candidate in 2010, she was universally known in her state, and mostly for positive reasons. She has also served as Trump's ambassador to the United Nations. His conservative record was clear.

And yet his credibility was no match for Trump's hold on the party.

Trump has now won easily in the Midwest, Northeast and South, eliminating any regional divisions that existed in the party before his rise.

Haley talked about her successes in recruiting industry to South Carolina in 2024 and signing tax cut and voter ID laws. He promoted his international experience. He described Trump as too risky, too old, too busy avoiding impeachments, too close to Vladimir Putin and not too close to NATO allies. Voters were not impressed.

ap votecast data His challenge was especially reflected on foreign policy. The poll found that about half of South Carolina primary voters wanted the US to take a less active role in the world, and about half opposed continued aid in defending Ukraine against Russian aggression. Instead they aligned strongly with Trump's approach.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Columbia, SC.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Columbia, SC. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republican presidential nominee former President Donald Trump defeated Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.  to speak at a primary election night party on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, SC.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnick)

Republican presidential nominee former President Donald Trump defeated Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. to speak at a primary election night party on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, SC. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnick)

Everything Haley tried to do reinforced that dynamic: To most Trump loyalists she seemed like just another politician offering establishment positions and trying to demoralize their champion.

Haley still has almost no clear or probable victory

Haley reiterated that she plans to stay there. The Michigan primary is on February 27. Haley has already campaigned there and run ads. The big prize comes after Super Tuesday on March 5, when about a third of Republicans' total 2,429 delegates are at stake in primaries and caucuses in 15 states and one territory. Haley's campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, often notes that many states that follow South Carolina have similar open primary rules. But not all of them. And it didn't translate into a win on home soil anyway.

California, a majority-Democratic state, does not have open primaries. So Trump, even in a state where he is not widely popular, will only be a favorite in a Republican setting. There is one open elementary school in Michigan. But this is a state where progressives and Arab American voters are pressuring voters to vote "uncommitted" in protest of President Joe Biden's approach to the Israel-Hamas war. Biden's campaign is facing competition. So that gives the Democrats their fighting chance, with no incentive to overcome.

In short, if Haley can't win in South Carolina, her chances of winning going forward are slim. Her best shot at victory may come next weekend in the Washington, D.C., primary, where Haley plans to appear. Trump finished third in 2016 behind Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Ohio Governor John Kasich.

What really forces candidates to skip the exam

Presidential campaigns rarely end straight because of primary losses and the number of delegates. They end when a candidate can no longer keep the lights on. And sometimes donors keep donating even after the scoreboard tells them it's practically over.

Often, this happens when there is a real ideological battle within a party – see Bernie Sanders in 2016, when the Democratic socialist was the vehicle for progressive anger at Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party's old guard. This time, for Republicans, it's a mix of personality, identity and ideology. Haley is the stand-in for all those Republican check writers who hate Trump and his version of the GOP.

And it is anti-Trump Republicans who continue to pay his campaign's bills. It's not about delegates. So when Haley insists she's holding off until Super Tuesday, it's because she has the resources to do so. At some point, if it doesn't reverse course dramatically, those resources will dry up.

But there is a big star in this campaign. Trump faces more than 90 criminal charges in multiple jurisdictions, creating unparalleled uncertainty in the race.

Speeches and spin aside, it’s about the delegates

Haley's determination aside, the final numbers that matter aren't the ones on her fundraising reports. This is representative mathematics. And Trump was on pace to win all 50 delegates in South Carolina, increasing his lead and making it clear he would reach a 1,215-delegate majority long before the end of the primary calendar in late spring.

VP Audition Hour, featuring Sen. tim scott

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who dropped his own presidential bid in November, enjoyed an extended spotlight in the informal competition to become Trump's running mate. First appointed to the Senate by Haley in 2012, he was Trump's most visible surrogate in South Carolina, often praising a former president who may never get much recognition.

Trump certainly noticed.

"He's been a very good lawyer," Trump said in a Fox News town hall with Scott. “He has been better to me than he was to himself. I watched his campaign and he doesn't like to talk about himself, but boy, does he talk about Trump.

Scott will bring loyalty and effective advocacy to Trump, without upsetting the former president who has always been in the headlines. Scott, as the only Black Republican in the Senate, could appeal to Trump in his quest to increase GOP support from non-white voters.

But Trump is known for flattering people who love him and then choosing another option.

Biden coalition did not save Haley

Haley has never explicitly asked Democrats to help her against Trump, but she might do so. She frequently reminded South Carolinians, who are not required to register by party, that the primary is open to all voters except the more than 125,000 voters who had already cast Democratic primary ballots on February 3.

She essentially needed the few remaining South Carolina Democrats and independents to deliver a GOP version of the coalition Biden assembled against Trump in 2020. This will mean overwhelming support from wealthier, more liberal, college-educated people in the South Carolina Republican primary. White voters, especially around Columbia and Charleston. But Haley also needed at least some support from black voters in those areas and in small-town South Carolina.

It did not happen.



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