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Trump’s dominance of Republican party leaves Haley behind

South Carolina used to matter as a primary.

It’s where Joe Biden got his 2020 Presidential campaign back on track after early losses.

Mr Biden was so thankful that he got the Democratic Party to make South Carolina the first primary to count for delegates in this year’s Democratic Convention.

The official reason is that the state is more representative of the rest of the country than the traditional early states like Iowa or New Hampshire.

But the Democratic primary two weeks ago could only attract 135,000 voters. It was overwhelmingly in favour of the sitting president, Joe Biden, who does not face a serious challenger.

More than three million are free to come out and vote in today’s Republican primary, but most of them won’t.

Not only are most primaries low turnout affairs anyway, this time there is peculiarly little to get excited about.

The US media is not excited and neither are the foreign correspondents with few flocking to the palm tree fringed shores around Charleston, and none venturing inland to the economically dynamic industrial heartland where BMW makes all its X-series SUVs for worldwide export, and where a new industry in battery electric vehicles has arisen rapidly (partly aided by the Biden administration grants).

Nikki Haley insists she will stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday on 5 March

Donald Trump is going to win tonight – it’s only a question of by how much.

He does face a serious challenger, in the form of Nikki Haley, his former UN ambassador.

More pertinently for this particular primary, she was twice elected governor of South Carolina.

It’s her home state. Normally a contender – to be considered as such – has to be capable of winning their own state. Not being backed by your own people is normally the kiss of death to a campaign.

But this is not a normal presidential campaign.

Ms Haley insists she will stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday on 5 March, when a dozen states hold their primaries.

Possibly longer.

Staying in the game is the key, not how many delegate votes she wins.

The strategic goal of the campaign is to be a viable alternative to Mr Trump for the Republican Party to consider in the event something, a criminal conviction, a health issue, something completely unexpected, were to force Mr Trump out of contention.

Donald Trump has washed off several controversies leading up to the primary

Also, far from normal is the behaviour of Republican donors.

They are sticking with Ms Haley, ensuring she has more money than Mr Trump to campaign with.

Normally they pull the plug when candidates aren’t cutting it on first or second contact with actual voters.

But the big money donors cannot buy an election. It is voters that vote for candidates, and if the candidate doesn’t attract votes in their own right, no amount of balloons, posters, bumper stickers and t-shirted campaign staffers will change that.

Here is where Mr Trump has the advantage.

He has hardly showed up in South Carolina and when he did recently, he made his notorious comments about letting Russia do whatever the hell it wanted with NATO allies that did not spend 2% of GDP on defence.

He criticised Ms Haley’s husband by asking where he was, why he wasn’t with her on the campaign trail .

In fact, the army reservist is on active service in east Africa, on the other side of the Red Sea from Yemen’s Houthis and their missile attacks on Western shipping.

Normally such flagrant disrespect of a military family in this very military-oriented state, which is home to the Marine Corps recruit depot Parris Island would go down like a lead balloon – but not for Mr Trump.

It just washed off.

An average of all opinion polls carried out this year, compiled by FiveThirtyEight.com, shows 52% of all Americans have an unfavourable opinion of Mr Trump.

Just under 44% have a favourable view. So, by a margin of 8.2%, more Americans don’t have a favourable view of Mr Trump.

But when its only Republican voters that are asked, 85% have a favourable view of Mr Trump.

So, to be in with any hope of doing well, Ms Haley has to persuade Democrats and Independents to come out and vote for her today – as well as 15% of the Republican vote that doesn’t like the former president.

It’s a big ask.

A Haley supporter at campaign event in Moncks Corner, South Carolina

The same polling analysis puts Mr Trump ahead of Ms Haley by 63% to 35%. Most pundits and political operatives on the ground, who have been quoted, are putting the winning margin for Mr Trump at 25 to 28 points.

In recent weeks, Ms Haley has sharpened her rhetoric against Mr Trump. But each time she does, Mr Trump’s poll ratings go up.

She has held back from an all-out, burn the boats, assault on her former boss, perhaps fearful that it could cut her off completely from what the Republican Party has become.

She even pledged that if she were president and Mr Trump were convicted in one of his federal cases, she would pardon him in the interests of healing a divided country.

She has kept up her criticism of the two leading contenders for the nominations, loudly repeating the line that 70% of American’s don’t want to see another Trump-Biden election – they want someone younger to be president.

She also points to the polling that says in a straight match against Mr Biden, she would win by 45 points to 40. However, the same polls in a Trump-Biden head-to-head put Mr Trump 1.9 percentage points ahead of Mr Biden, within the margin of error.

At times Ms Haley does look like the kind of candidate who could be the face of modern conservatism in the US, able to connect instantly with a key demographic in winning elections here – suburban women.

This week she has adroitly grasped an issue that left many Republicans floundering.

It was a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court which said that embryos frozen as part of IVF treatment are to be regarded as children, and allowed parents, whose embryos were destroyed, to sue under a 19th century law to protect children from harmful treatment or death in medical facilities.

Alabama has already implemented a total abortion ban, activated in the wake of the overturning of Roe vs Wade by the US Supreme Court.

A number of large hospitals have stopped IVF treatment in the state citing legal uncertainty.

Ms Haley came out immediately in support of IVF treatment, a position that puts her squarely on the side of the vast majority of Americans of all parties.

She spoke in TV interviews of her own experience with IVF, and in so doing touched a lot of American households.

On Friday, the national Republican Party advised candidates to support IVF and they did in numbers as did Mr Trump.

The incident shows the mobilising power of social issues, notably abortion, in autumn’s general election.

But will Ms Haley be around to take part in it?

It looks unlikely. Nonetheless, never say never in the surreal world of American politics these days.

Tim Scott was appointed to the Senate by Ms Haley but has endorsed the former president

The stunning thing about Ms Haley’s standing in her home state is just how little support she has received from the local Republican Party.

The governor, both state senators and most of the representatives have come out in support of Mr Trump.

Even Ms Haley’s own local ‘TD’, representative Nancy Mace and her own country Republican Party turned against her.

Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate by Ms Haley to fill a vacancy in 2012, turned against her too.

He was a runner in the Iowa caucuses, before dropping out to back Mr Trump.

In an all too obvious attempt to be Mr Trump’s vice-presidential pick.

Ms Mace too is looking for the vice-presidential nod from Mr Trump. A profanity laced attack on Hunter Biden when he turned up at the committee investigating him in Washington DC last month helping position her now on the MAGA wing of the party.

Back in 2021, she wanted rid of Mr Trump and a fresh start for the party, but like so many others she has come over to the Trump camp.

Ms Haley, who came to power in 2010 with the Tea Party movement, was once in the vanguard of the Republican new right.

Now she seems to have been left behind by a party that has morphed into the Trump party – a “homeless” Republican.

By tonight, she may have been politically evicted from her home state too.


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