February 26, 2024

Trump Drubs Haley Again

The GOP is still incredibly divided, however, and that may not bode well for November.

For some time now, the question has not been whether Nikki Haley would lose the GOP presidential primary in her native South Carolina but by how much. We got the answer Saturday in the form of a 20-point drubbing at the hands of Donald Trump.

It’s bad enough for any presidential candidate to lose his or her home state, which usually signals that it’s time to pack up the tents and go home. But beyond winning 59.8%, Trump’s win was a blowout in a key metric — because of South Carolina’s structure for awarding delegates, he won 47 of the state’s 50 delegates. Haley, the former two-term governor of the Palmetto State, won 39.5% of the vote but only three delegates from the Charleston-based 1st Congressional District.

There are other fascinating numbers. Exit polls showed that more voters think that the 77-year-old Trump has the stamina for the presidency than the 52-year-old Haley, even though her youth and energy compared to two old men is a central plank in her candidacy. More South Carolina Republicans think Trump will beat Joe Biden than think Haley will, though electability is also central to her rationale (she does, in fact, lead Biden by a larger margin than Trump does). Perhaps most telling are voters’ views of the 2020 election: By overwhelming margins, Trump’s supporters think he actually won, while Haley’s backers think Biden did. That’s a major disconnect.

Undeterred, Haley promised to continue the race. “I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” she declared.

As for the primary contests, “I’m an accountant. I know 40% is not 50%,” she said. “But I also know 40% is not some tiny group. There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.” Only four states have voted so far, and Michigan’s primary is tomorrow. “In the next ten days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” she added. “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

Ever since Trump announced his third presidential bid just after the 2022 midterms, he has been effectively running as the incumbent. He has the most devoted followers in all of politics, and the entire narrative coming from everywhere is that he is Inevitable™. Yet even his big primary victories are with 50-some-odd percent of the vote, not 80% or 90% as an incumbent ought to expect.

That cuts both ways. Would the Republican Party still be divided if Haley had just read the writing on the wall, graciously bowed out, and got behind the former president? Then again, would the party be so divided if Trump showed more interest in wooing skeptical voters than coercing a coronation?

“I don’t care about a political future,” Haley said before the primary. “If I did, I would have been out by now.” Does she care about the party? At some point, the two sides of the GOP are going to have to reconcile if there’s to be any shot of beating the goose-stepping Democrats in November. Virtually the entire establishment has lined up behind Trump. A lot of voters have not.

Meanwhile, as expected, Ronna McDaniel announced her resignation from the Republican National Committee after years of failing to deliver winning results and after Trump pointedly criticized her for it. (Pop quiz: If someone asked who the head of the Republican Party has been for the last few years, would you answer McDaniel or Trump?)

Trump endorsed North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley to succeed her, along with his handpicked co-chair — his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who conveniently argues that the RNC ought to help pay Trump’s mounting legal fees and that Republican voters would support such a move. Based on Trump’s solidifying support in the face of all of his legal travails, she’s probably right. “That’s why people are furious right now,” she said. “And they see the attacks against him. They feel like it’s an attack not just on Donald Trump but on this country.”

For his part, Trump pointedly didn’t say anything about Haley in his victory remarks Saturday, focusing instead on Biden. “We’re going to look at Joe Biden,” he said, “look him right in the eye, ‘Joe, you’re fired. Get out, get out, Joe, you’re fired.”

That most certainly needs to happen, but strangely enough, it’s not going to be easy.

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