South Carolina probably won’t save Nikki Haley
It may actually be a brick wall.
Haley’s stronger-than-expected performance in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary pushed Trump’s victory to just over 10 points, keeping alive her faint hopes of unseating the former president. These slim chances now depend on achieving victory in her home state next month.
Others don’t believe it. Even as Haley portrays the race as just the beginning, both parties are backing Trump as the GOP nominee. president Joe Biden He said Tuesday night that it was “clear” that Trump would be his opponent in the general election, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called Trump “our ultimate nominee” in an interview on Fox News.
But New Hampshire is essentially the friendliest district Haley can expect — the electorate is packed with moderates and independents on Tuesday — and it gets trickier from here.
Any momentum Haley could claim outside New Hampshire would face grueling polling and a costly, month-long campaign to reverse it in a state that, without her connections, would likely have little chance of success.
The handful of competitions over the next month will be largely insignificant. Nevada is technically holding two GOP contests, but Trump and Haley are not even running on the same ballot, and the state party will award all of its delegates to Trump’s February 8 caucus. Only four delegates are at stake in the Little Virgin Islands, also on February 8th.
It all comes back instead to South Carolina on February 24, a full month after New Hampshire. It’s a watershed moment for Haley after her rise as Trump’s only credible challenger after Iowa.
Haley is moving forward: Her campaign is running TV ads in South Carolina starting Wednesday, and Haley plans to campaign Wednesday night near Charleston.
But despite winning two terms as governor there, Haley can’t rely on being her favorite daughter to save her.
South Carolina voters are more conservative and more evangelical, the type of voters among whom Trump has dominated in the first two nomination races this month. It’s a different constituency than the moderates and college-educated independents who made up Haley’s coalition in New Hampshire.
More than a third of New Hampshire GOP primary voters on Tuesday, 34 percent, identified as moderate or liberal, and Haley won 75 percent of them, according to the polling report. National electoral college exit poll. South Carolina voters are more conservative: Only 19 percent of voters in the state’s 2016 Republican primary identified as moderate or liberal.
Among self-identified conservatives in New Hampshire — the types of voters Haley would face most in South Carolina — Trump outscored Haley 70 percent to 28 percent.
Anticipating this narrative, Haley’s campaign sent a memo Tuesday morning to reporters, pointing to her improbable victory in the tough 2010 primary for governor as evidence of a history of running strong campaigns. But in that race, she was supported by prominent figures on the right, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
This time, her state’s top Republicans are lining up against her. All but one member of the state’s Republican congressional delegation is behind Trump, as is Governor Henry McMaster. Sin. Tim Scott (R.S.C.), whom Haley appointed to the Senate in 2013, took the stage at Trump’s primary night rally to declare the race over.
What Haley needs is a surge in the number of Trump skeptics who typically don’t vote in Republican primaries. South Carolina has no partisan voter registration, so anyone can vote in the Republican primary on February 24 — as long as they don’t cast a ballot first in the Democratic primary three weeks earlier, on February 3.
New Hampshire, with its libertarian history, has a culture of independent voters jumping between primaries. (But it has also shifted left in recent years, and current President Joe Biden won the general election by 7 points in 2020.)
South Carolina does not have the same independent streak, and there has historically not been a large bloc of voters who switch parties in Republican primaries.
Ironically, Biden’s quest for a big win in the Palmetto State could undermine Haley’s efforts to beat Trump later next month on her home turf. Biden and the Democratic National Committee chose South Carolina as first in their party’s nominating lineup. The president launched television ads in South Carolina this week aimed at attracting voters in the Democratic primary, and is running ads on evangelical radio stations and other outlets with large numbers of black listeners.
If he succeeds in mobilizing large swaths of the electorate, those same voters will no longer be eligible to vote against Trump — and for Haley — in the Republican primary.
The South’s early primaries — the brainchild of famed GOP strategist Lee Atwater, among others — also have a long history of ugliness, including the 2000 racist smear campaign against John McCain.
When they chose their primary date, South Carolina Republicans He wanted the state to play a pivotal role. They got their wish on Tuesday when Trump failed to land a knockout blow against Haley.
And now we’re all set to have a long, potentially ugly road ahead — which, barring a major change in the dynamics of the race, likely won’t stop Trump’s path to the nomination.