With less than two weeks until the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, Nikki Haley is crisscrossing her home state in a last-ditch, well-funded attempt to usurp her former boss, Donald Trump.
It remains a long way. While the ex-president filled an arena in Conway, where 3,000 people were in attendance Saturday afternoon and thousands more lined up outside, Haley drew much smaller crowds in cities across the country. ‘State.
The contrast is borne out by a recent poll in South Carolina, which showed Trump as much as 37 points ahead of Haley — a stunning gap in a state where she was once a popular governor.
“I think Haley will be soundly defeated in South Carolina,” said Chip Felkel, a veteran Republican political consultant in the state and prominent Trump critic. “Trumpism, whatever it may be, has taken over the party formerly known as the GOP.”
Even voters who came to see Haley as she embarked on a 30-stop bus tour last weekend acknowledged that her chances of stopping Trump were slim.
“I really hope so,” said a Gilbert voter who declined to give her name, when asked if Haley could pull off a surprise victory.
Her husband added: “If she can’t win in South Carolina, then I think it’s time for her to win.” . . if you can’t win your home state, what’s the point?
It’s a question that looms over Haley’s campaign as she pursues a grueling schedule of relentless rallies, fundraisers and media appearances in the face of increasingly slim odds.
In addition to his huge lead in the polls, Trump also gained the support of South Carolina’s current governor, its two U.S. senators, and every member of Congress in the state except one.
Haley’s only congressional support came from Ralph Norman, a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives. He said that despite the obstacles, Haley would continue her campaign at least until Super Tuesday on March 5, when more than a dozen states would hold primaries.
“She’s more determined now than I’ve ever seen her,” Norman told the Financial Times. “She is tireless and her message resonates. »
On the stump, Haley points out that she outlasted a dozen “guys” to be the last person to face the former president.
“Don’t you think it’s finally time to have a woman in the White House?” Haley asked Greenwood voters Saturday. “No drama, no vendettas, don’t take things personally, just get to work. This is what we need and we can do it.
And she hit back at Trump’s increasingly personal and sexist attacks. He has taken to calling his former U.N. ambassador a “birdbrain,” and on Saturday in Conway he asked about the whereabouts of Haley’s husband, who is stationed overseas as a member of the Military National Guard.
“Donald, if you have something to say, don’t say it behind my back. Get on the debate stage and say it to my face,” Haley responded at her own rally in Gilbert.
The former US ambassador to the UN remains popular among wealthy Wall Street donors, who have poured money into her campaign despite her string of defeats in early state primaries – and after Trump’s warnings to donors billionaire funds to cease their support in its favor.
Haley raised $16.5 million in January, including $11.7 million from local donors, according to her campaign, and raised another $1.7 million during a drive through California last week. A new fundraising campaign is planned this week in Texas.
The funds have allowed him to dominate the airwaves: Haley has spent $8.1 million on political ads broadcast in South Carolina in the year to date, according to AdImpact, compared to just $72,000 spent by Trump, including the last ad aired in the state on January 8. .
Haley has stepped up her attacks on her former boss in recent weeks, with a speech focused almost entirely on why the Republican Party should break with Trump and support him instead.
She tears into her temperament, catalogs her legal troubles, questions her advanced age — noting that the 77-year-old recently appeared to confuse her with former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and cites polls showing she would be much more likely to beat President Joe Biden in November.
“Republican President Trump did not get 43 percent of the vote. [in New Hampshire]she told Greenwood voters. “That says a lot. But then he goes on stage that night and throws a total tantrum. Have you all seen it? All he did was talk about revenge.
His message about the former president resonates with some South Carolinians, including Ronnie Southerland, a 67-year-old retired mechanic who rode to the rally in Greenwood on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“I used to like Trump. I voted for him last time. But he behaves like a big baby. I mean, I’m sorry, I was sick of him. He doesn’t do anything but cause trouble,” Southerland said.
“Look at everything he has to go to court for. I mean, for four years, he would go to court half the time. . . The president shouldn’t be like that. Everything Trump is for.”
Brenda Murray, a campaign volunteer in her 60s from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said she voted for Biden in 2020 but is now spending her time trying to get elected Haley.
“Look, 70% of people don’t want Biden and Trump anymore. It’s just crazy. It’s really crazy,” Murray said, adding, “I just don’t want her to stop.”
Some veteran political operatives also argue that Haley should stay in the race — if only to position herself as an obvious alternative should something happen to Trump before the Republican Party’s inaugural convention in July.
The candidate who has gathered the most delegates after the primaries will be named candidate for the convention. But the winner will need more than 1,200 of those delegates. Trump won 63 delegates, to Haley’s 17.
“You never know what will happen in this race. . . Donald Trump is the subject of a huge number of investigations that could not go his way,” said Alex Stroman, the former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party. “And then the group would seek to see what the exit ramp is, and I think that exit ramp would be Nikki Haley.”
Others argue that Haley — who says she is not interested in becoming Trump’s vice president — is setting the stage for a new run for the White House in 2028.
“She’s right that her numbers are much better than Trump’s against Biden. People just choose to ignore that,” said Felkel, the Republican consultant. “If Trump loses, she’ll be in a good position to say, ‘I told you so.'”
“There’s a long game here that benefits Nikki Haley,” said Kevin Madden, who was a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
“Haley is developing a lot of muscle memory that will be beneficial for 2028,” Madden added. “There are very few guarantees in politics, but Nikki Haley running for president again, no matter what happens this time, is a guarantee.”
Additional reporting by Eva Xiao in New York