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South Carolina Primary: Trump Romps, Haley on Life Support

The reasons for this race to continue diminish by the day.

by | Feb 25, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

Not that we couldn’t figure it out before, but now we know for sure why Nikki Haley made a much-ballyhooed speech earlier in the week promising she would not quit after Saturday’s primary contest in South Carolina and would remain in the race through Super Tuesday, March 5. It was a clever preemptive strike designed to avoid having to answer the same question after a fourth straight blowout loss.

And sure enough, as widely predicted, the 45th president romped to a landslide victory on the home turf of his lone remaining competitor for the Republican presidential nomination. Haley’s distant hope was based on the possibility of a surge of Trump haters, moderates, Democrats, secular and highly-educated voters, and those who do not traditionally vote in primaries. That hope was vanquished early in the evening, with the networks calling the race for the former president based on exit polls before a single vote was tallied. Trump’s final margin is expected to be well into double digits. He earned 59% of the vote to Haley’s 39% with 95% of the vote counted and won all 44 of the state’s available delegates to July’s GOP Convention in Milwaukee.

It makes one wonder whether Haley’s vow to carry on no matter the result in South Carolina was too clever by half. She said nothing she hadn’t said before and advanced the usual lines of attack against Trump and Biden – making the entire heavily promoted announcement little more than pure political posturing. And after another lopsided loss, she will have considerably more trouble continuing to sidestep the growing hue and cry within the Republican Party for her to stand down in the interests of party unity.

South Carolina – in the Bag Early

Haley’s internal polling, a staple of presidential campaigns, must have delivered a clear message well before Saturday that she would be trounced in her home state – a fate far more embarrassing than the losses she has already absorbed in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. It raises the question of what Ms. Haley sees that no one else does. Does she have a secret battle plan for winning some of the 15 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday, now on the near horizon? Does her plan include aggressive trolling for votes among independent voters and Trump-hating Democrats in states where they are allowed to cross over and cast a protest vote for her?

New banner Memo - From the Desk of Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner 1The best guess is that her plan is based on a single premise. At this stage of the game, with Trump running up the score and polling almost like a popular incumbent among Republicans, the only logical conclusion is that Haley hopes – or perhaps believes – Trump will not make it to the finish line because of his legal entanglements. If she remains in as long as possible, the thinking goes, it would place her next in line for the nomination should Trump’s troubles metastasize. Simply put, Haley evidently is proceeding on the premise that, if Trump is convicted of a felony – he is currently charged with 91 of them – then all bets are off, and she can swoop in and bring order to the chaos as an unthreatening, relatively moderate, and non-controversial standard bearer.

It’s about all Haley has left in her bag of tricks. She has rolled out a number of arguments, but like the Democrats, most of them are based on degrading her opponent. She has said Trump was the right man for the job in 2016, but no longer. That argument did not fly. Nor did the attack on Trump for significantly increasing the national debt. Nor did the proclamation that Republicans should want a younger candidate, one with fewer blemishes, or that she is more appealing to Trump’s Achilles heel, women voters.

She has also long argued that she would perform better than Trump in the general election against Joe Biden. That claim might have stuck while Trump was trailing in the polls many months ago, but not now when he is leading. And while some surveys confirm Haley’s assertion that she might be more likely than Trump to take down Biden, they also identify a rebound effect, namely that GOP voters will be less motivated to show up and vote with Haley instead of Trump at the top of the ticket. And that should hardly be surprising. An overwhelming majority of Republicans have, through three campaign cycles, embraced the historic figure who stands all by himself in the eyes of MAGA enthusiasts: Donald Trump. To them, Haley is just another establishment politician.

For a candidate with famously large ambitions, one would expect the lady from the Palmetto State to carefully weigh the plusses and minuses of remaining in the fight. While staying in will further increase her visibility, primarily for the purpose of setting her up as a major player in 2028, she risks being blamed if Trump loses to Biden by those who would claim her refusing to quit while the quitting was good and continuing to divide the GOP proved fatal. And in the worst case, she would then become an outcast in her own party. One way or the other, time is running out for Nikki Haley to decide whether she will continue to be the skunk at Donald Trump’s garden party.

Read More From Tim Donner

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