Margin of Trump’s victory shows his grip on the Republican party is tightening


It was no cliffhanger.

Donald Trump was always going to win the South Carolina primary, it was simply a matter of margin – margin of victory and margin of Republican shift.

This result moves the party’s centre of gravity yet further, from traditional to Trump.

It strengthens his status as Republican nominee-in-waiting, as a movement waits for Nikki Haley’s next move.

She has pledged to fight on – “I’m a woman of my word” – but the question is: for how long?

Before this primary, her game plan had been to get as far as ‘Super Tuesday’, the 5 March when the results of 16 states are declared and candidates can secure most ‘single-day’ party support.

In theory, Super Tuesday can turn the contest on its axis.

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Team Haley’s trouble is there was nothing super about Saturday in South Carolina, her home state, to suggest a winning trajectory.

They will assess what this result says about her longer-term prospects and so will financial backers forever pondering when to stop writing cheques and write her off.

Pic: Reuters
Pic: Reuters

In a losing race, they have seen reason to back the tortoise against the hare.

Around a third of Republican Party members don’t support Trump and their number would increase if he is convicted.

In those circumstances, Nikki Haley has exploited the primary campaign stage to define herself as an alternative choice.

Should Donald Trump be forced to pull out, she would be handily placed as a last-standing alternative with delegate support in the bank.

Her continued pursuit of the party nomination has antagonised Republicans supporting, and resigned to, Donald Trump.

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A party establishment rallied around the running favourite is offended by an increasingly belligerent challenger writing scripts for Democrat attack ads but it would, doubtless, be placated by polls that position Nikki Haley as a better bet to beat Joe Biden.

It is a case for Nikki Haley but not one that carries support in winning numbers, far from it. How far she continues is the serious question now.

If she quits before the month is out, this will have been the shortest contested presidential primary since the nomination process, as we know it, began (beating the Democratic race in 2004, which ended on 3 March).

In America’s story of the presidential race 2024, there is much about South Carolina that has felt like a footnote – possibly because it is.

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