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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trump pivots to November election after thrashing Haley

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump dances off stage at the end of a campaign rally at the Grappone Convention Center on Jan. 19 in Concord, N.H.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Greg Bluestein and Adam Van Brimmer Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ROCK HILL, S.C. – Once so eager to berate and batter Nikki Haley, former President Donald Trump sent an unmistakable message to his GOP rival as he won a blowout victory Saturday in her home state of South Carolina. He simply ignored her.

As Trump coasted to his fourth consecutive victory in nominating contests, he and his allies zeroed in on President Joe Biden. He painted himself as the inevitable nominee despite Haley’s vow to continue her campaign into March.

“The end is near,” wrote Trump’s co-campaign managers, a mantra that has filtered down to many Trump loyalists ready to pivot to the general election campaign.

“It’s all about November and Biden now,” said Gabriel Schmidt, a Greenville resident who cheered Trump at a campaign event at Winthrop University over the weekend.

Haley’s already slim chances are narrowing by the week. She can’t name a single state she can win, and she’s increasingly relying on a coalition of moderates, independents and Democrats to capture GOP contests dominated by conservative voters.

Still, she charted out plans to rally in Michigan for Tuesday’s primary, then trek to Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Virginia, Washington, North Carolina and Massachusetts ahead of the Super Tuesday votes on March 5.

She won’t say whether she’ll compete in Georgia’s March 12 primary. But she insists she’s staying in the race to give voters an alternative to the Trump-Biden rematch that many say they dread.

“In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak. They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate,” Haley said. “And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

Her outlook looks bleaker than ever. Trump aides calculated in a recent memo that if Haley’s 43% level of support in New Hampshire was applied to all the contests, Trump would lock up enough delegates to win the nomination by March 19. If he does better, he could clinch it with Georgia’s vote.

“She’s not going to be the nominee. We know that. She knows that. She’s hurting the party and hurting the country,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, a Jackson Republican who campaigned with Trump in South Carolina this weekend.

“It’s time to just move on to the general.”

‘Not that party anymore’

Trump’s campaign event in Rock Hill served as a reminder of his loyal base of support.

He rallied at the same coliseum in 2016, when his smashing victory in the South Carolina primary fueled his nomination victory.

The crowd wasn’t as large as it was eight years ago, but the thousands who attended the Friday night event contrasted with far smaller audiences who filed into hotel ballrooms and high school gyms for Haley rallies.

“The numbers are growing,” said David Nienstedt, a Trump volunteer who has attended 17 rallies this election cycle. “You sense a lot of frustration out there.”

Exit polls underscored that sentiment. Some 59% of Trump supporters in South Carolina say they’re “angry” about the way things are going in the U.S. That’s compared with about one-fifth of Haley supporters who feel the same way.

Conversation among Trump’s backers at events across South Carolina focused on inflation, border security, energy policy and culture war issues. At the Rock Hill rally, Trump touched on them all – and blamed Biden for every perceived shortcoming.

“Our country will be destroyed if we reelect Biden,” he said.

With only four contests settled and dozens more to go, Trump still only has a fraction of the delegates up for grabs.

Haley allies are quick to point out that for every victory Trump has logged, a significant number of GOP voters are voting against him.

“I can’t help but be optimistic,” said Linda Selig, an Atlanta Republican who co-chairs the Women for Nikki organization. “When a former president can only get 60% in the primary, it’s got to worry him.”

Trump’s camp sees something broader at play. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Rome Republican jockeying for a spot in Trump’s Cabinet, told a Greenville audience that the MAGA coalition is locked in an existential struggle with both Democrats and fellow Republicans.

“We’re changing the party. Is it painful? Yes. Is it messy? Yes. Is it sloppy? Yes. But it’s changing. And that’s a big part of beating Nikki Haley in the primary,” she said. “The message is being sent to the establishment Republicans that we are not that party anymore.”