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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

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

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and a Republican presidential candidate, casts her vote in the South Carolina Republican primary on Kiawah Island, on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. South Carolina voters went to the polls on Saturday to cast ballots that could well determine the political fate of the state’s former governor, Haley, in her long-shot bid to derail former President Donald Trump’s march to the Republican nomination. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

By Michael Gold

Former President Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican primary Saturday, delivering a crushing blow in her home state and casting grave doubt on her long-term 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. Haley pledged to continue her campaign, but Trump has swept the early states and is barreling toward the nomination even as a majority of delegates have yet to be awarded.

“This was a little sooner than we anticipated,” he said in Columbia, South Carolina, minutes after the race was called, adding that he had “never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.”

Throughout his victory speech, Trump made it clear that he was eager to turn his attention to the general election, at one point telling the crowd: “I just wish we could do it quicker. Nine months is a long time.”

He also did not mention Haley by name, alluding to her only twice: once to knock her for a disappointing finish in a Nevada primary contest with no practical value, and once for supporting an opponent of his in 2016.

In her election-night speech in Charleston, South Carolina, Haley congratulated Trump on his victory. But she said the results — he was beating her 60% to 39% as of late Saturday — demonstrated that “huge numbers of voters” were “saying they want an alternative.”

Trump, however, won South Carolina in 2016 and has remained popular in the state since, with polls before the primary consistently showing him with double-digit leads.

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

During her speech, Haley sounded more serious and less upbeat than she had after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire. But she said she planned to stay in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5, arguing that Americans deserved a chance to choose a candidate.

“In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” she told supporters. “They have the right to a real choice. Not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate.”

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 closest to Trump in polls — and in South Carolina, raising questions about whether it will succeed in Michigan, which holds its primary 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, arguing that she is providing an alternative for voters opposed to Trump and maintaining that Americans deserve a chance to choose a candidate.

So far, however, Republican voters have shown no sign of turning away from Trump, even as he faces 91 felony charges in four criminal cases. Trump’s legal problems have been at the forefront of his bid, as he tries to use the unprecedented collision between the campaign trail and courtrooms to rally his base behind him.

Trump’s first criminal trial, on charges connected to a hush-money payment to a porn actor in 2016, is scheduled to start March 25 in New York City, meaning his trial could overlap with dozens of Republican primaries and caucuses.

Whether Haley will remain in the race by then is an open question. 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.

“We don’t anoint kings in this country,” Haley said Tuesday. “We have elections. And Donald Trump, of all people, should know we don’t rig elections.”

The Trump campaign has repeatedly signaled its desire to focus on the general election and an anticipated matchup against President Joe Biden, who won South Carolina’s Democratic primary early this month.

In a speech earlier Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, Trump focused entirely on Biden rather than addressing Haley, his more immediate opponent.

Trump 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.

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