Trump gets GOP primary win in Haley’s home state of South Carolina

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Former President Donald Trump won a resounding victory in South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary on Saturday, NBC News projects, continuing a winning streak through each Republican nominating contest so far — and putting him in position to potentially clinch the party’s presidential nomination within the next month.

Defeat for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is a blow in her home state. A total of 50 delegates were on the line in Saturday’s contest, which are split between the statewide winner and the winner of each congressional district. And Trump’s dominant performance in the exit polling and earliest results suggest he could pull off a clean sweep.

The former president now looks to be cruising to the party’s presidential nomination despite being criminally charged in four separate jurisdictions and subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in civil penalties. He could reach the necessary 1,215 delegates to clinch by mid-March, with a number of states holding de facto winner-take-all primaries on Super Tuesday (March 5) and more following after that.

Follow live updates from South Carolina here.

For Haley, who served as governor of South Carolina before she became Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, the loss was particularly brutal. Trump’s victory could be the most lopsided in a contested South Carolina GOP primary since President George H.W. Bush defeated right-wing insurgent candidate Pat Buchanan, a former aide to multiple GOP presidents, by more than 40 points in 1992.

But Haley made clear that a loss in her home state on Saturday would not be pushing her out of the race any time soon, pledging to campaign through the Super Tuesday contests next month. Already, she’s planned a cross-country trip to those states set to begin on Sunday.

In a speech on Tuesday outlining why she planned to stay in the race regardless of results in the Palmetto State, Haley called Trump “a disaster” for the GOP who is “more unstable and unhinged” than when he first ran, adding she feels “no need to kiss the ring.” 

“And I have no fear of Trump’s retribution,” she said. “I’m not looking for anything from him.”

Trump, who held one major event in the state during the final days of the contest, paid little attention to Haley in the run-up to Saturday’s vote, though at a rally earlier this month he questioned where Haley’s husband was, as he is deployed overseas with the military. 

Haley and allies repeatedly targeted Trump for those comments over the last two weeks, doubling up criticism of Trump’s talk about Haley’s marriage with his comments at the same South Carolina event that he once told NATO allies he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if those allies did not increase their defense spending.

“Nikki has actually gone very far left, she’s very rude,” Trump said at his rally in Rock Hill on Friday, during which he only briefly referenced his rival. “Do you notice that? I don’t like to say that, but she’s very rude.”

Trump maintained wide polling leads in the public surveys released before Saturday’s contest. But Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., Haley’s lone congressional endorser, predicted ahead of Saturday that Haley would “outperform” those surveys.

“It’s not going to be 30 points,” he said. “We’ll see how this turns out, take this state-by-state. I admire her for doing this. All those who are asking her to get out, they’re not putting the work in.”

Haley and allies increasingly targeted independent and Democratic-leaning voters in the final days of the election, with any voter who did not vote in the Feb. 3 Democratic presidential primary here eligible to vote in Saturday’s contest. Turnout in the Democratic primary was just 130,000, a massive drop-off from recent election cycles.

And Haley and her main super PAC spent far more in advertising through Tuesday, outspending Trump in South Carolina about 10 to 1.

Still, the deficit Haley faced versus Trump was too much for her to overcome. And with Trump’s win seemingly in the bag for weeks, Trump’s family members like daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who the former president has endorsed to serve as co-chair of the Republican National Committee, asked in Beaufort: “Why is she still in the race?”

During an exchange with reporters following the event, Trump’s daughter-in-law suggested that Haley must only be staying in the race because she is hopeful that a criminal conviction will knock the former president out before Election Day.

“I can only assume, and I think what a lot of people only assume, is that you would only stay in if you were banking on possibly the least democratic and least American thing happening in this situation, which is that potentially one of these indictments takes Donald Trump out,” she said.

Meanwhile, the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., told NBC News in a question-and-answer session with reporters that Haley is only staying in the race “because she’s trying to hurt Trump” and that doing so will benefit her financially.

“It’s purely about the future payday,” he said. “And there’s literally no other excuse for it. And we all know that if we’re being intellectually honest.”

At her Georgetown rally on Thursday, Haley said she did not care how her presidential bid would impact her political future.

“First they wanted to say that I wanted to be vice president,” she said. “I think I pretty much proved that is not what I’m trying to do. Then they were talking about my political future. I don’t care about a political future. If I did, I would have been out by now.”

Haley supporters who spoke with NBC News said they wanted to see her push on, suggesting something beyond the results could impact the race.

“Regardless of how she fares in South Carolina, I would like to see her run the course,” said Liz Hood, a Haley backer from Beaufort. “Because from February 24 to November is a long time. And there are many things that can happen.”

“I’m glad she’s staying in,” added Bill Pittman, a Haley supporter from Beaufort. “And I think she’ll win but a lot can happen on both sides between now and Election Day. It is an eternity away in politics. I like the idea of her being in the mix, still in the hunt.”

The core problem Haley ran into in her home state was simple: Voters for the most part liked her, but most who voted on Saturday simply liked Trump even more.

“She was pretty good,” David, a Trump supporter from Georgetown, said of her time as governor. “I think she’s a great person. But I think the Democrat Party would eat her up, spit her out in the first week. I don’t think she can handle it.”

On Trump, he added, “I don’t like the man. But I think he is the only one that can bring us out of the hole we’re in.”



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