Nikki Haley Just Won’t Quit

February 25, 2024

Despite losing her home state’s primary in a huge way, she’s soldiering on. So what does that mean for November?

Former South Carolina governor and presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at her election night watch party in Charleston on February 24, 2024.

(Julia Nikhinson / AFP vit Getty Images)

At this point, I’m not sure whether I should admire Nikki Haley or worry about her.

If you squint, you could claim she lost South Carolina to Donald Trump by only 20 points. (OK, I think it’s technically 22, but we don’t have final numbers yet— so let’s say 20.)

She hadn’t expected to lose. In late January, after she lost to Trump by 11 points in New Hampshire, she predicted she’d do better in her home state, even though South Carolina, in the heart of the old Confederacy, is still one of the Trumpiest and most racist states in the nation. 

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After her drubbing on Saturday—and we have to call it that, even if we say it was only 20 points—by the awful, but apparently unbeatable, Trump, Haley said she’d soldier on, at least through the Super Tuesday states. 

“I know 40 percent is not 50 percent,” she acknowledged. Nevertheless, she persevered: “There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative. I’m a woman of my word,” she said at an event in Charleston after the results came in. “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice,” she said.

“That is really something, this was a little sooner than we anticipated. It was an even bigger win than we anticipated,” Trump rambled in his victory speech. Then, when Trump introduced  the state’s senior Senator, Lindsey Graham—who has bowed lower to Trump than any politician I can think of—the crowd began to boo. Those folks are bloodthirsty.

It’s been a strange weekend for the GOP.  Nazis mingled openly at CPAC. Trump gave an abysmal speech to Black conservatives in South Carolina Friday night, comparing himself to Black Americans. “I got indicted a second time and a third time and a fourth time, and a lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,” he said. “I’m being indicted for you, the Black population.” (He also said the $400 gold-painted sneakers he recently released would appeal to “inner city” Black people.)

My readers know my favorite thing to write about is incontinent Democrats who are sure Biden should leave the race. I don’t understand why people aren’t more worried about Trump when they hear him say things like that. Because despite all this, Trump kicked Haley’s butt on Saturday.

I know, I know. Please don’t go on social media to mansplain to me. He runs the party. Ronna Romney McDaniel had to drop her family name to please him, and he’s running her out of the Republican National Committee today anyway. And The New York Times exists solely to gaslight liberals. I get it.

Haley doesn’t seem to, though, and has apparently purchased ad time for the Super Tuesday races. Her campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, says they are “placing our faith in the American people,” according to Politico.

“We are willing to bet that they have a lot more courage than the political class, and even the media, who line up behind Trump, even though they know what a disaster he is,” Ankney said. “And we’re going to make our case until that door closes.”

I’m with Betsy Ankney about the media, so I’m fine if Haley stays in. (Although that’s also good for the media. And I’m fine with that, too, because the media might be in worse trouble than the GOP.) 

Finally: Good news and bad news for Trump coming out of exit polls: Sixty five percent of GOP primary voters believe Trump is fit to be president even if he is convicted of one of the 91 felony charges against him. On the other hand, 59 percent of Haley voters said they will not vote for him.

I know, that doesn’t matter in South Carolina, which is not a swing state. But it’s a picture of where Haley got her support, and it’s not from the majority of GOP voters. Still, I’d venture it’s closer to the majority of American voters. Which is why I’m still feeling OK about November, despite the best efforts of Democrats to make me despair.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh, a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, is a coproducer of The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show and the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America. Her new book (with Nick Hanauer and Donald Cohen) is Corporate Bullsh*t: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power and Wealth In America.

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