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‘Go for broke’: Haley’s supporters want her to stay in the fight against Trump

In World
February 26, 2024

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Nikki Haley’s campaign suffered a devastating blow on Saturday after she lost her home state, all but ending the former South Carolina governor’s hopes of becoming the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Yet, her supporters are urging her to stay in the race as long as she can – even until the Republican convention in July. They say her White House bid gives voters dissatisfied with a rematch between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden a chance to have their voices heard.

“What about all the other states? We all get a chance to vote,” said Michele Hottinger, a 61-year-old retiree from Dumfries, Virginia, after Haley’s rally last week in Mount Pleasant. “Like Nikki says, when you vote in the primary, you get to choose. When you vote in the general, the choice has already been made for you.”

Haley has clung to that rationale in the face of mounting defeats. A mere four states have voted, she argued after her latest loss, and Republican contests will take place in 19 states, one territory and the District of Columbia in the next eight days.

But after Haley lost to Trump by a 20-point margin in the Palmetto State, it’s not clear she can win any of the upcoming primaries and caucuses. A sweeping victory by Trump in an array of March 5 competitions could knock Haley out of the presidential race for good.

Nikki Haley supporters rally for the Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor after her loss in the state's GOP primary Saturday.

Nikki Haley supporters rally for the Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor after her loss in the state’s GOP primary Saturday.

Haley’s losses have not deterred her supporters, so far. She has been drawing crowds of Republicans and independents united by their irritation with both major parties’ expected candidates.

They share a near universal loathing of Trump’s grievances and distasteful rhetoric but do not see themselves or their priorities in the policies championed by Biden. They are especially worried about immigration, the economy and national security.  And for them, Haley’s message about two “grumpy old men” competing to run the country is spot on.

“We need to have a choice. In the general election, there is no choice if it’s just Biden and Trump, so we must get her through the primary,” said Elizabeth Smith, 64. The Women for Nikki volunteer from Columbus, Ohio, added: “We need to do it for the younger people.”

‘We’ve got to get along’

For David Wardlaw, 66, Haley’s experience as a governor and ambassador are a draw. The charter pilot from Atlanta, who attended Haley’s rally last Tuesday in Clemson, thinks she can unite the country.

“Too divisive,” he said of the nation’s current political climate. “We’ve got to get along.”

Trump is facing a staggering 91 criminal charges in four different state and federal cases. He has been ordered by a court to pay E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in a defamation case after she accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. And he received a judgment of upwards of $355 million in a civil fraud case, in which the total climbs every day he doesn’t cut a check.

He can still run for president if he’s convicted, legal scholars say. However, he also faces pushes in Colorado and Maine to keep him off the ballot. Advocates say his actions surrounding the Capitol riot bar him from office under the 14th Amendment, an argument that has already made its way to the Supreme Court.

“The wildcard that no one knows is what happens with Trump in all of these legal proceedings,” said Jim Harris, an Anderson, South Carolina, resident who attended Haley’s event in Clemson with Wardlaw.

Harris said he views electability as the most important issue in 2024. Trump will run into trouble with women and college-educated voters, he predicted, and surveys show Trump’s support eroding if he’s convicted of a felony.

Simply put: Harris believes Haley has a better chance of beating Biden.

“If the money stays sufficient to run her campaign, I think it would be premature for her to bail,” he said.

Feb 24, 2024; Kiawah Island, SC, USA; Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley spoke with the press after voting in Saturday’s GOP primary Saturday in Kiawah Island. Megan Smith-USA TODAY

Feb 24, 2024; Kiawah Island, SC, USA; Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley spoke with the press after voting in Saturday’s GOP primary Saturday in Kiawah Island. Megan Smith-USA TODAY

Haley said Saturday night in a South Carolina concession speech that she owes it to her supporters to continue to fight.

She had $13 million in the bank at the end of January, and her campaign says she raised $5 million at fundraisers. She also raked in more than $1 million from grassroots supporters in less than 24 hours after losing South Carolina.

But cash appears to be coming in as quickly as it goes out. Haley spent more than she raised last month, and her campaign has advised events in seven states and Washington leading into next Tuesday, with more expected to be added to her schedule.

Her campaign is stretching its resources, making national cable and digital ad purchases and relying on candidate appearances to drive earned media, during the hectic period. The decision represents a shift in strategy following early contests, where Haley invested heavily in individual states and came up short.

The only place where Haley’s campaign says it is paying for commercials is Michigan, which holds its contest this Tuesday. It spent $500,000 on ads there. Haley-aligned Super PAC SFA Fund, Inc., says it will spend the same amount.

Haley’s operation took a major hit on Sunday elsewhere when Koch-funded grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity Action said it was ceasing its financial backing and redeploying its volunteer network in light of South Carolina’s results.

Haley’s campaign manager Betsy Ankney said Friday, before Haley’s weekend defeat, that the campaign is “fully confident” that it will have the resources it needs to compete. She noted that Trump’s political committees spent more than $50 million on legal fees in his personal court cases last year alone.

Deborah Brooks, a 70-year-old retired chaplain from North Augusta, said Haley should stay in the race until at least next Tuesday. So much can happen at the last minute, said Brooks, who attended a Haley event last week.

“She hasn’t hit the Midwest yet, and so there’s a large part of the country that hasn’t even voted yet in the primaries, and so I’m glad she’s staying in, hanging in there,” she said.

‘I’m not going anywhere’

Ravi Murugappan, a 64-year-old engineering professional and resident of Martinez, Georgia, hopes Haley will still be in the race when his state votes on March 12.

He said that Trump has good ideas, but he prefers Haley, because she is willing to work with everyone. He also appreciates that Haley is putting forward solutions to the nation’s problems, including the Social Security deficit.

“(Trump) has to have more compassion, and he has to think about a lot of people and play by the rules – not by his rules,” Murugappan said.

Hottinger, whose home state of Virginia votes on March 5, says she wants Haley to stay in until the July convention. She said she agrees with Haley that it’s not fair for a handful of early states to dictate who wins the nomination.

“She remains unflappable. She’s a breath of fresh air. And it’s time we had a woman in the White House,” she said.

Haley vowed in a speech last week that she would be “campaigning every day until the last person votes,” although she said Saturday that she meant South Carolina.

Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, on Feb. 23, 2024, the night before the state’s GOP primary.

Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers a speech in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, on Feb. 23, 2024, the night before the state’s GOP primary.

The former United Nations ambassador said the goal of her Super Tuesday campaign is to provide Americans who say they don’t want Trump or Biden with another option.

“So as long as you have a majority of Americans saying please give us a choice, I’m going to continue to fight. I am not going anywhere,” she added. “Here in America, we have elections and peoples’ voices are heard.”

‘She’s trying to hurt Trump’

Haley’s aggressive campaigning may not be depriving Trump of delegates – but it’s costing him time and money. Strategists on both sides of the aisle ultimately believe a protracted battle between the two Republicans will benefit Biden in the general election.

At a Friday event at the Trump campaign’s headquarters in North Charleston, the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., accused Haley of staying in the race to weaken his father, score corporate board seats and win a cable news contract.

“She’s trying to hurt Trump. There will be benefits to her financially to do that,” he said. “That’s what she’s gunning for. It’s purely about the future payday. There’s literally no other excuse for it.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) ORG XMIT: SCMS308

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) ORG XMIT: SCMS308

Debbie Camacho, 61, a volunteer at the event who said she has been volunteering for Trump since 2015, said Haley should have dropped out of the race already.

“I think that’s a ploy just to take money away from this campaign. She’s not going to win – she knows she’s not going to win,” Camacho said.

That’s not an argument that has swayed Haley or her supporters. The former governor said Saturday night that the roughly 40% of the vote she received in South Carolina is not some “tiny group.”

Brittany Martinez, an Azusa, California resident who worked for former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., echoed that sentiment after Haley’s speech.

“She should take it all the way. Spend all the money. Go for broke,” Martinez, 32, said.

Martinez said that Republicans need to take their closed-door conversations about Trump into the open and say the quiet part out loud.

“That 40% isn’t nothing, isn’t something to laugh about. That is an appetite for new leadership,” she said. “People are tired of Trump.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikki Haley’s supporters want her in the fight against Donald Trump

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