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5 takeaways from the South Carolina GOP primary

5 takeaways from the South Carolina GOP primary

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former President Trump won an emphatic victory in the South Carolina primary Saturday, vanquishing rival Nikki Haley in her home state.

The race was called for Trump within moments of polls closing at 7 p.m. EST. With 83 percent of returns in just before 10 p.m., the GOP front-runner’s margin of victory stood at 21 points.

The Michigan primary is next up Tuesday — and then March 5 brings Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states vote.

Here are the main takeaways from the Palmetto State primary.

Trump’s landslide puts him on a glide path to nomination 

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Make no mistake, Trump will be the 2024 Republican nominee, barring some utter cataclysm.

The former president is 4-for-4 in primary contests so far. Here, in South Carolina, he hammered Haley in the state where she twice won election as governor.

At Trump’s victory speech in Columbia, the degree to which the state’s GOP establishment had rowed in behind him was clear. Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both spoke briefly on his behalf, as did Gov. Henry McMaster (R).

Haley spoke to a smaller crowd in Charleston, alone on the stage.

She continues to press the case that Trump is unelectable in November. But there is no real reason to believe her argument will gain traction with GOP voters elsewhere when it has failed to do so here.

That’s not necessarily a failing of the former governor’s, but simply reflects that the GOP base remains enamored of Trump.

In every state so far, the former president’s margin of victory has been in double digits.

The battle for the nomination is all over, bar the shouting.

Haley isn’t quitting

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaking at an election night event, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A few weeks ago, there were real questions as to whether Haley would pull out of the race before the South Carolina primary.

Then Trump allies predicted a heavy defeat here would bring the end.

It didn’t.

Haley’s speech in the Palmetto State amounted to an adamant declaration that she will battle on, until at least Super Tuesday.

She earned one of the biggest cheers of the night when she noted her previous promises to keep going and added, “I’m a woman of my word.”

Her rationale is that she is not going to “give up this fight” when so many Americans are unenthused about a match-up between President Biden and Trump.

Haley, ratcheting up her rhetoric, suggested such a bilious race would mean that “America will come apart.”

The former governor had her best fundraising month so far in January, so she has the resources to keep going. And, she has her ardent supporters too — albeit not enough of them to really loosen Trump’s grip on the nomination.

One supporter here, Nell Parker, told The Hill that Haley should stay in “as long as she has the money to keep the lights on.”

The GOP is now the MAGA Party

Signs are seen before former President Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference
Signs are seen before former President Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference

Signs are seen before former President Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Saturday, February 24, 2024.

It isn’t just Trump’s margin of victory that shows his dominance of the party.

It’s that most Republican voters in South Carolina share his entire worldview.

The Associate Press’s “VoteCast” voter survey showed, at least in its early results, that around 6 in 10 GOP voters in the Palmetto State oppose continued U.S. aid to Ukraine. That was bad news for Haley, and striking in a state with a strong military tradition.

Around 7 in 10 GOP voters in the state accept Trump’s argument that the various investigations into his conduct are attempts to undermine him, according to the survey.

Given those numbers, it’s no surprise that around 6 in 10 Republicans here consider themselves to be supporters of the MAGA movement.

The GOP, for good or ill, is Trump’s party now.

Trump’s rhetoric still raises red flags for the general election

Former President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference
Former President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference

Former President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Saturday, February 24, 2024.

The questions about Trump’s electability in November won’t go away despite the margins he racks up in Republican primaries.

That’s not only because of the 91 criminal charges he faces. It’s also because of his propensity to inflame.

He displayed that tendency once again on the eve of the primary here, when he addressed the annual gala of the Black Conservative Federation on Friday.

Trump said Black Americans had “embraced” his mug shot and — very clumsily — sought to suggest Black voters would see common ground regarding his indictments.

“I got indicted for nothing, for something that is nothing,” Trump said. “And a lot of people said that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing, but possibly, maybe, there’s something there.”

The following morning, Haley blasted those comments after casting her ballot in Kiawah Island, S.C.

“It’s disgusting, but this is what happens when Donald Trump goes off the teleprompter. That’s the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That’s the offensiveness that will come every day until the general election,” she predicted.

Of course one more controversy won’t peel away supporters who have stuck with Trump now. But his rhetoric — often uncouth, at best — hampers his chances of winning over persuadable voters.

As Democrats often note, Trump lost the popular vote in both 2016 and 2020.

Haley’s attacks could hinder Trump beyond the GOP base

Haley’s attacks aren’t hindering Trump in his march to the GOP nomination, but they could resonate with moderates and help Democrats make their case in November against the former president.

In her speech Saturday, Haley objected to Trump’s use of the term “vermin” to describe his political opponents.

In the days leading up to the primary, she said Trump could not win a general election, accused him of having “sided” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent comments about NATO, characterized him as a narcissist and mocked him for never having served in uniform.

Trump allies want Haley out of the race in part because of the damage she could cause with those kinds of comments. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) made this argument directly when she spoke with The Hill at Trump’s Friday rally in Rock Hill, S.C.

The former president, however, has killed the threat of Haley winning more votes than him.

But Haley’s words, perfect material for Democratic attack ads, could still hurt him leading up to November.

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