Haley’s loss to Trump in South Carolina casts more doubt on her viability

Read five takeaways from Donald Trump’s big win over Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

Former President Donald J. Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, dealing a blow in her home state and casting serious doubt on her long-term viability.

Mr Trump’s victory, called by the Associated Press, was widely expected and offers fresh fodder for his claim that the race is effectively over. Ms. Haley has vowed to continue her campaign, but the former president has swept early states and is headed for the nomination, although most delegates have yet to be awarded.

“This was a little sooner than we expected,” he said in Columbia, SC, minutes after the race was called, adding that he had “never seen the Republican Party as united as it is now.”

During his victory speech, Mr. Trump made it clear that he wanted to turn his attention to the general election, at one point telling the audience: “I just wish we could do it faster. Nine months is a long time.”

He also did not mention Ms. Haley by name, alluding to her only twice: once for knocking her out for a disappointing finish in a meaningless Nevada primary, and once for endorsing her 2016 opponent.

In her election night speech in Charleston, SC, Ms. Haley congratulated Mr. Trump on his victory. But she said the results – he was beating her by 60 percent to 39 percent late Saturday – showed “overwhelming numbers of voters” “say they want an alternative.”

Mr. Trump, however, won South Carolina in 2016 and has remained popular in the state since then, with polls consistently showing him with a double-digit lead ahead of the primary.

Ms. Haley, a former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador during the Trump administration, had hoped to overcome the odds, but her loss to voters who are likely to be most familiar with her politics will fuel further uncertainty about her path forward.

During her speech, Ms. Haley sounded more serious and less upbeat than she did after the losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. But she said she plans to stay in the race until Super Tuesday, March 5, arguing that Americans deserve a chance to choose a candidate.

“In the next 10 days, 21 more states and territories will speak,” she told her supporters. “They have the right to make the right choice. It is not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate.”

Ms. Haley has invested in her campaign to win the support of independent and more moderate Republicans, especially in states where primaries are not limited to single-party registered voters.

But that strategy failed last month in New Hampshire – the state where she was closest to Mr Trump in the polls – and in South Carolina, raising questions about whether it would work in Michigan, which is held on Tuesday, and any of the 16 states that vote on Super Tuesday March 5.

Still, Ms. Haley insisted she would stay in the race, arguing that she provides an alternative to voters opposed to Mr. Trump and arguing that Americans deserve the chance to choose a candidate.

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

Mr. Trump’s first criminal trial, on charges related to payments to a porn star in 2016, is scheduled to begin on March 25 in New York, meaning his trial could coincide with dozens of Republican primaries and caucuses.

It is an open question whether Ms. Haley will remain in the race until then. So far, donors have continued to pour money into her bid, giving her money to continue. She will travel to Michigan on Sunday and has planned stops in a number of states before the contests on Super Tuesday, when 36 percent of the Republican delegates will be up for grabs.

“We don’t anoint kings in this country,” Ms Haley said on Tuesday. “We have elections. And Donald Trump, of all people, should know that we are not rigging the election.”

The Trump campaign has repeatedly signaled its desire to focus on the general election and the expected matchup against President Biden, who won the Democratic primary in South Carolina earlier this month.

In a speech earlier Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, Mr. Trump focused entirely on Mr. Biden, instead of addressing Ms. Haley, his closest opponent.

Mr. Trump and his team have urged Ms. Haley to drop out of the race, pointing to his delegate count and his lead in the polls as evidence that she has no mathematical path to the nomination.

Trump’s followers have outnumbered Ms. Haley’s at every turn of the contest so far. Even in Nevada, where Ms. Haley was the only candidate in the Republican primary who did not win a single delegate, she was outvoted by the “None of these candidates” option on the ballot. Ms. Haley did not campaign there and her campaign shrugged off a symbolic defeat but sparked days of embarrassing headlines.

Over the past month, Trump advisers have taken every opportunity to argue that Ms. Haley has yet to name a state she thinks she can win. Mr. Trump tried to undermine and humiliate her long before South Carolina.

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

Both have appeared regularly at Mr. Trump’s rallies in South Carolina, and Mr. Scott, a former rival for the Republican nomination, has emerged as a key surrogate and potential contender. Mr. Trump also began to claim that he was only tapping Ms. Haley for the United Nations post in his administration to pave the way for Mr. McMaster to become governor.

The line is part of an increasingly aggressive barrage of attacks Mr. Trump has launched against Ms. Haley since the Republican field narrowed. After previously only criticizing Ms. Haley’s position in the polls, he began targeting her political views while lobbing personal slurs about her temperament, intelligence and marriage.

Ms. Haley, for her part, also leveled sharp criticism at Mr. Trump, building on her months-long argument that Republicans need a younger leader who can leave behind the “chaos” of the Trump era. She called him “disgruntled” and suggested he would use Republican National Committee coffers to pay his mounting legal bills while he fights his criminal charges.

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

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

Jazmine Ulloa contributed to the reporting.

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