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Another loss, but Haley presses on for Republicans not ready to crown Trump

In World
February 25, 2024

Losing South Carolina is almost always a bad omen for presidential hopefuls and defeat in a candidate’s home state is viewed as irrevocable. But as the last Republican standing between Donald Trump and the party nomination, Nikki Haley thrilled supporters on Saturday by deftly capitalizing on her small but consistent show of support from voters desperate for an alternative.

Trump was declared the winner within one minute of polls closing in the Palmetto State, an unsurprising but nevertheless stinging rebuke for Haley at the hands of the voters who twice elected her governor.

Related: Trump defeats Haley: South Carolina 2024 primary results in full

“That is really something,” Trump told supporters in Columbia, the state’s capital. “This was a little sooner than we anticipated.”

Even after her fourth consecutive loss this primary season, however, Haley did not drop out. Addressing supporters at a primary night party in Charleston, Haley conceded to Trump, but said it was clear from the vote that a significant share – perhaps as much as 40% – of Republicans were not looking to coronate the king.

“I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run,” Haley said. “I’m a woman of my word.”

The chandeliered ballroom erupted in applause and chants of “Nikki!”

These voters’ voices, and donations, are fuelling her long-shot bid, giving it life beyond South Carolina, a “winner-take-all” state. Her support will translate into little more than a handful of delegates at most, but it could achieve something else: reminding Trump that he has not fully captured the Republican party just yet.

Haley, a former accountant, said she knew the math on Saturday did not add up to a victory. But, like the Republicans’ Cassandra, she warned: “I don’t believe Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden.”

With most of the results tallied on Saturday night, Haley had captured just under 40% of the vote. “I know 40% is not 50%, but I also know that 40% is not some tiny group.”

The risk for Republicans is that some of those voters, like Kathy Aven, say they will not support Trump in November.

“Even if she drops out, I’m voting for Nikki,” said Aven, moments after Haley addressed her supporters on Saturday night. “If all I have is Biden or Trump, I’m voting for Nikki.”

According to exit polls, 78% of Haley voters in South Carolina said they would be dissatisfied if Trump was the nominee; 82% said he would be unfit for the presidency if convicted of a felony; and just 4% believe he is physically and mentally fit to be president. She performed best among voters with independents, those with an advanced degree, and those who believed Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020.

But as she continues to exasperate Trump and his allies, Haley’s own dilemma was laid bare in South Carolina. The “Tea Party governor”, who was once a rising star in Republican politics, is now an avatar of the anti-Trump resistance for her refusal to “kiss the ring”.

And yet among those voters in the state who still like Haley, many love Trump more.

“He is the best president in my lifetime,” said John, who declined to provide his last name, after casting his ballot for Trump at the main branch of the Charleston county public library.

“I was a big Nikki fan. I still am, actually. I thought she was a wonderful governor of South Carolina,” he continued. “But I have the template for a guy that served four years as my president, and I know how I felt under Trump. I love Nikki as a governor. I love Trump as my president.”

In her speech on Saturday, Haley vowed to continue telling “hard truths” until she is faced with her own hard truth about the path forward. Standing before voters in the state that raised her, Haley proved that she is not done fighting and is scheduled to visit the critical state of Michigan in the coming days.

Amid her losing streak, that perseverance will remain memorable.

Hours earlier, Haley accompanied her mother, a naturalized US citizen born in India, to the polls to cast a vote for her daughter who would be the first female president of the United States.

“I am grateful that today is not the end of our story,” Haley said.

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