Sweeping a fourth consecutive primary by a significant margin, former President Donald Trump left South Carolina victorious on Saturday and on a roll heading into Michigan on Tuesday.
Nikki Haley, two-term governor of South Carolina and a former United Nations ambassador in Trump’s administration, was overwhelmed in unofficial very early vote count totals. The race was called minutes after the closing of polls at 7 p.m. Eastern.
South Carolinians, who do not register by party and could choose to vote in either but not both primaries, in early voting exceeded the more than 131,000 votes cast – about 4% – in the Democratic primary on Feb. 3 when 96% chose President Joe Biden.
South Carolina has about 3.3 million registered voters and gets nine of the 538 Electoral College votes in November's general election.
At stake in the South’s first Republican primary were 50 delegates at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on July 15-18. Twenty-nine went to Trump as the statewide winner; three delegates each go to winners in the seven congressional districts, respectively. Those results were still pending at time of publication, though Trump was projected to up his total to 44 of the state's 50.
"I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now," Trump said in a victory speech that began minutes after the polls closed. "You can celebrate for about 15 minutes, but then we have to get back to work."
The nation’s 45th president added to previous caucuses and primary wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the first non-incumbent GOP candidate to open with such a sweep since 1976's primary and caucuses calendar change. Since 1980, only Newt Gingrich in 2012 won South Carolina's Republican primary without reaching the national ticket.
In a social media post in the final hour before polls closed, Haley wrote, "Filled with gratitude today. Getting to vote with my mom and my kids at my side is a memory I’ll cherish forever."
Immigration, inflation, energy, an America-first foreign policy and revenge from the 2020 loss to Biden have been hallmarks of the 77-year-old Trump’s campaign.
“No country could sustain what is happening to the United States of America,” Trump, during his victory speech, said of the ongoing situation at the U.S. border with Mexico. “Right now, our country is a laughing stock all over the world. Our country is going to be respected again, respected like never before.”
On the campaign trail in Rock Hill on Friday, Trump said Haley was staying in the race to help Democrats. The flip side is Haley’s supporters see Trump and his 91 criminal charges as the GOP choice that Democrats would want to face their candidate.
Trump also served up comments on race – sparking partisan critiques – when speaking to a friendly crowd at the Black Conservative Federation Gala in Columbia later in the evening.
Haley, 52, was in Greenville on Tuesday saying she’s campaigning to save the country, led by the topics of education, economy, immigration, homicides, fentanyl and foreign policy. She voted in Kiawah Island on Saturday morning, having spent Friday in Moncks Corner among other stops.
Haley says Trump brings chaos and will be unelectable in the general election, though national polls including The Center Square Voters’ Voice Poll disagree. In a Marquette Law School national poll released Wednesday, proposed 1-on-1 races have Haley defeating Biden 58%-42% and Trump beating Biden 51%-49%.
Prior to Saturday, Real Clear Politics' polling average showed Trump ahead of Haley 63%-32% in South Carolina. Nationally, the advantage climbs to 75%-17%.
While Haley has tirelessly been asked about stepping out of the race, campaign manager Betsy Ankney on Friday confirmed a “seven-figure” ad buy for Super Tuesday states. The March 5 primary schedule includes 15 Republican and 14 Democratic primaries.
(This is a developing story and will be updated.)