Takeaways from South Carolina primary: Donald Trump's Republican home field advantage is everywhere

By The Associated Press
Posted 7:16PM on Saturday 24th February 2024 ( 4 months ago )

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump trounced Nikki Haley on Saturday in the South Carolina primary, a victory that emphatically punctuated the depth and breadth of his support among Republican primary voters as he vanquished his lone remaining major opponent in her home state.

Trump did not even have to mount a vigorous campaign, making few appearances and spending relatively little money. Haley has vowed to stay in the race and planned to visit Michigan, the site of the next primary, on Sunday. But the loss further eroded the rationale for her candidacy, barring something unforeseen that would derail the former president.

Here are some takeaways from the South Carolina leg of the campaign:


Haley talked up her chances in “my sweet state of South Carolina” for months. Twice elected governor, initially as a tea party candidate in 2010, she was universally known in her state, and mostly for positive reasons. She had even served as Trump's ambassador to the United Nations. Her conservative record was clear.

And yet her credentials were no match for Trump's hold on the party.

Trump has now won with ease in the Midwest, the Northeast and the South, bulldozing any regional differences that had existed in the party before his rise.

Haley talked in 2024 about her successes recruiting industry to South Carolina and signing tax cuts and voter ID laws. She promoted her international experience. She excoriated Trump as too risky, too old, too busy fending off indictments, too close to Vladimir Putin and not close enough to NATO allies. Voters were not swayed.

AP VoteCast data reflected her challenge, especially on foreign policy. The survey found that about half of South Carolina primary voters wanted the U.S. to take a less active role in the world, and about half opposed continuing aid to Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion. They were instead strongly aligned with Trump's vision.

Everything Haley tried reinforced the dynamics: To most Trump loyalists she sounded like just another politician offering establishment positions and trying to topple their champion.


Haley repeated that she plans to stick around. The Michigan primary is Feb. 27. Haley already has campaigned there and run advertising. The big prize follows, Super Tuesday on March 5, when about a third of Republicans’ 2,429 total delegates are at stake across primaries and caucuses in 15 states and one territory. Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, notes often that many states that follow South Carolina have the same open primary rules. But not all of them. And that didn’t translate into a win at home anyway.

California, a majority-Democratic state, does not have open primaries. So Trump, even in a state where he’s not broadly popular, will be the favorite in a Republicans-only setting. Michigan does have an open primary. But that’s a state where progressives and Arab American voters are pushing voters to cast “uncommitted” ballots as a protest against President Joe Biden’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war. Biden’s campaign is countering. So that gives Democrats their own fight, with no incentive to cross over.

In short, if Haley couldn’t win in South Carolina, her chances of victories ahead are slim. Her best shot at a victory could be in the Washington, D.C., primary next weekend, where Haley plans to make an appearance. Trump finished a distant third there behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2016.


Presidential campaigns rarely end directly because of primary losses and delegates counts. They end when a candidate can’t keep the lights on anymore. And sometimes donors keep giving long after the scoreboard says it’s practically over.

Often, that’s the case when there is a real ideological fight within a party — see Bernie Sanders in 2016, when the democratic socialist was the vessel for progressive anger at Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party old guard. This time, for Republicans, it is a blend of personality, identity and ideology. Haley is the stand-in for all Republican check writers who loathe Trump and his version of the GOP.

And it's these anti-Trump Republicans who keep paying her campaign’s bills. It isn’t about delegates. So when Haley insists she is staying through to Super Tuesday, it’s because she has the resources to do so. At some point, if she doesn't have a dramatic reversal, those resources will dry up.

But this campaign has a major asterisk. Trump is facing more than 90 criminal charges in multiple jurisdictions, injecting unparalleled uncertainty into the race.


Haley's determination aside, the ultimate numbers that matter are not on her fundraising reports. It's the delegate math. And Trump was on pace to win all 50 delegates in South Carolina, widening his lead and making it increasingly clear that he will reach the 1,215-delegate majority long before the end of the primary calendar in late spring.


South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who dropped his own presidential bid in November, enjoyed an extended spotlight in the unofficial contest to become Trump's running mate. First appointed to the Senate in 2012 by Haley, he was Trump's most visible surrogate in South Carolina, often heaping praise on a former president who can never seem to get too much validation.

Trump certainly noticed.

“He’s been such a great advocate,” Trump said at a Fox News town hall with Scott beside him. “He has been much better for me than he was for himself. I watched his campaign and he doesn’t like talking about himself, but boy, does he talk about Trump.”

Scott would give Trump loyalty and effective advocacy, without upstaging a former president who is always the headliner. Scott, as the only Black Republican in the Senate, also could appeal to Trump in his quest to increase GOP support from non-white voters.

But Trump has been known to flatter those who fawn over him, then make another choice.


Haley never explicitly asked Democrats to help her against Trump, but she might as well have. She often reminded South Carolinians, who do not have to register by party, that the primary was open to all voters except the 125,000-plus who already had cast Democratic primary ballots Feb. 3.

She needed some of the remaining South Carolina Democrats, plus independents, to essentially give her a GOP version of the coalition Biden assembled against Trump in 2020. In a South Carolina Republican primary that would mean heavy support from wealthier, more moderate, college-educated white voters, especially around Columbia and Charleston. But Haley also needed at least some backing from Black voters in those areas and across small-town South Carolina.

It didn’t happen.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump hugs and kisses the American flag as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley gestures as she arrives to speaks after the South Carolina presidential primary Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he departs after speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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