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Trump defeats Haley in South Carolina, crushing blow in her home state

KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA – FEBRUARY 24: Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after voting in the South Carolina Republican primary on February 24, 2024 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Nikki Haley is facing off against former U.S. President Donald Trump in the South Carolina Republican primary. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)  (Justin Sullivan)
By Michael Gold New York Times

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former President Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, delivering a crushing blow to her hopes of gathering strength in her home state and casting grave doubt on her continued viability.

Trump’s victory, called by the Associated Press, was widely expected, and offers fresh fodder for his contention that the race is effectively over. Trump has swept the early states, and he is barreling toward the nomination even as a majority of delegates have yet to be awarded.

Trump has remained popular in South Carolina since his 2016 run, and polls before the primary consistently showed him with double-digit leads.

But Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and a United Nations ambassador during Trump’s administration, had hoped to buck the odds, and her loss at the hands of voters who are arguably the most familiar with her politics is likely to fuel further uncertainty about her path forward.

Haley has staked her campaign on drawing support from independents and more moderate Republicans, particularly in states where primaries are not restricted to voters registered with one party.

But that strategy fell short in New Hampshire last month – the early-voting state where she was most closely polling Trump – and in South Carolina, raising questions about whether it will succeed in Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday, and any of the 16 states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 5.

Still, Haley has insisted she will stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday, arguing that she is providing an alternative for voters opposed to Trump and maintaining that Americans deserve a chance to choose a candidate. Donors have continued to pour money into her bid, giving her the cash to keep going.

She will travel to Michigan on Sunday and has planned stops in a number of states before the Super Tuesday contests, when 36% of Republican delegates will be up for grabs.

“People want to see us continue this fight,” she said Saturday after casting her ballot in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. “And I think that it’s a good thing when democracy reigns, and I think it’s great for the Republican Party to have this competition.”

The Trump campaign has repeatedly signaled its desire to focus on the general election. During his speech Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Trump did not mention Haley’s name.

He and his team have called on Haley to drop out of the race, pointing to his delegate tally and his lead in polls as proof that she has no mathematical path to the nomination.

Trump’s followers have outnumbered Haley’s at every turn of the contest so far. Even in Nevada, where Haley was the only candidate in a Republican primary that awarded no delegates, she was outvoted by a “None of These Candidates” option on the ballot. Haley did not campaign there, and her campaign shrugged off the symbolic defeat, but it generated days of embarrassing headlines.

In Conway, South Carolina, a relatively rural and deeply conservative region of the state’s northeast, voters said they had little love for their former governor.

“She’s a warmonger. She’s a RINO,” said Jeremy Vaught, 47, using the acronym for “Republican in Name Only.” Vaught cast his vote for Trump. And Rich Armstrong, 61, said he felt much the same way, criticizing Haley’s proposal to raise the retirement age. “I just don’t care for her,” he said just before voting for Trump.

Over the last month, Trump advisers have taken every opportunity to argue that Haley has yet to name a state whose primary she thinks she can win. Trump sought to undercut and humiliate her well before South Carolina.

In New Hampshire, the Trump campaign showcased her relative lack of support at home by bringing a slew of prominent South Carolina Republicans to the state, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Tim Scott, whom Haley appointed to his position.

Both men have appeared regularly at Trump’s South Carolina rallies, with Scott, a former rival for the GOP nomination, emerging as a key surrogate and a potential running mate. Trump has also begun claiming that he only tapped Haley for the United Nations post in his administration to clear the way for McMaster to become governor.

That line is part of an increasingly aggressive barrage of attacks that Trump has unleashed at Haley since the Republican field narrowed. After earlier only criticizing Haley’s standing in the polls, he began taking aim at her political views while lobbing personal smears about her temperament, intelligence and marriage.

Haley, for her part, has also leveled sharper critiques at Trump, building on her monthslong argument that Republicans need a younger leader who can leave behind the “chaos” of the Trump era. She has called him “unhinged” and suggested that he would use the Republican National Committee’s coffers to pay his mounting legal bills as he fights four separate criminal indictments. Trump faces a total of 91 felony charges.

Her loss in South Carolina marked a striking political transformation for both her and the Republican Party. When she ran for governor in 2010, she was the anti-establishment candidate embraced by grassroots conservatives aligned with the Tea Party who saw her as an outsider.

But the movement that propelled her success coalesced behind Trump in 2016, helping him dominate Republican politics and remake the party in his image. Haley, once seen on the party’s conservative fringes, now appears to be too moderate for the Republican base.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.