April 24, 2024

Trump won South Carolina – but there is one big caveat

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Donald Trump may have won the Republican primary in South Carolina, but Nikki Haley’s better-than-expected performance here exposed glaring weaknesses in Republicans’ 2024 frontrunner campaign that could hurt his chances against Democrat Joe Biden can hinder.

Trump defeated Haley by 20 points — certainly an embarrassing loss for the former South Carolina governor. However, she won about 40% of votes cast on Saturday, a significant margin that, compared to her similar performance in New Hampshire, underscored that a large number of Republican primary voters simply don’t like Trump.

Those voters could be decisive for Haley on Super Tuesday, when states like Vermont and Utah — believed to have more moderate Republican bases — go to the polls and potentially reward her with a much-needed victory and delegates. Haley hasn’t outright won any of the GOP nominating contests so far.

However, Haley signaled on election night that her campaign may have an expiration date, promising for now only to stay in the race through Super Tuesday, when 15 states and one territory cast their votes. Many of the states voting on March 5 are handing out delegates on a winner-takes-all basis – meaning there is no prize for Haley earning even a significant share of the vote below 50%.

Haley and her allies argue that her vote share says something about how Republicans view Trump and how the party will fare in November.

“Forty percent is not a small group. There are a large number of voters in our Republican primaries who want an alternative,” Haley told supporters at her election night party at a Charleston hotel on Saturday, confirming she would not drop out after her fourth major defeat.

Trump is running with many of the advantages of a sitting president, but without collective support behind him. By comparison, Biden won 96% of votes cast in South Carolina’s Democratic primary earlier this month against Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, Biden’s only challenger within the party. But Biden could face headwinds next month in Michigan, where a campaign is underway to get voters to write “unaligned” in protest of his Israel policies.

“If a Democratic front-runner were confronted with this level of disagreement among voters, you would not be able to escape coverage of divisive issues and standard-bearer concerns,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, wrote in a statement message on X on Sunday.

The big question, however, is whether voters who rejected Trump in the Republican primaries will stay home in November, or hold their noses and vote for him because they can’t bring themselves to vote for Biden. Haley has argued that both men are too old to carry out the duties of the presidency, and she has sharply criticized the Biden administration and policies.

Some Haley supporters seem to be really struggling with how they want to vote in November.

“I’m not going to do that not to vote. There is no point in not voting. So I’m going to examine very carefully who the vice presidential candidate will be. What else can we do?” laughed Ola Louisa Watson, a 76-year-old retiree who came to see Haley speak at an event in Georgetown.

“Neither Trump nor Biden are human right now. I want to be our leaders. So I have to look at the next level,” she added.

Other Haley supporters say they definitely don’t see themselves voting for Trump and want her to stay in the race for as long as possible. Patricia Murphy, a Republican voter from Pennsylvania who attended Haley’s election party in Charleston on Saturday, said she thought Trump should go to jail. “I hope he chokes on a sandwich,” she added.

The anti-Trump sentiment may not hurt his campaign in a reliably red state like South Carolina in November, but if even a small percentage of Republicans choose to abstain in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, Trump could the problems can come.

The former president’s appeal is strongest among white, working-class and evangelical voters without a college degree, a trend picked up by exit polls among Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Haley, meanwhile, draws well-educated voters from the nation’s wealthier suburbs. The two camps are also divided over the results of the 2020 presidential election, with a majority of Trump supporters saying Biden was not legitimately elected, while most Haley supporters rightly saying he was.

If Trump wants another term in the White House, he will have to convince the non-MAGA wing of the Republican Party – moderates and independents – to stick with him even as he faces 91 criminal charges in several jurisdictions and court-imposed fines totaling more than $400 million. A conviction could damage that effort, as could any daily outburst from Trump.

On Saturday, Trump said black voters like him because of his criminal charges, which Haley and Democrats quickly labeled a racist trope. He then followed that up by delivering a wild speech at a conservative conference in Washington, DC on Saturday, predicting:Judgement day” on Nov. 5 for what he called “liars and deceivers and fraudsters and censors and cheats who have commandeered our government.”

Haley advocated the opposite as she campaigned in South Carolina this weekend.

“If you run for president, you have to bring people in,” she said at an event in Beaufort. “It is a story of addition. You don’t push people out of your club.”

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