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'Nikki who?': Trump campaign dismisses Haley after South Carolina win, she vows to fight on

Published 02/25/2024, 05:04 AM
Updated 02/25/2024, 07:26 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a South Carolina Republican presidential primary election night party in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S. February 24, 2024. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer/File Photo

By Nathan Layne, Alexandra Ulmer and Gram Slattery

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) -Donald Trump's campaign plans to treat Nikki Haley as irrelevant after he won the Republican primary in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday, skipping attacks on her to focus instead on a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden, advisers said.

The former president has easily swept all five Republican nominating contests thus far, winning states in the Midwest, Northeast, South and West and knocking out every challenger save Haley, a former South Carolina governor, along the way.

Saturday's win in South Carolina makes Trump's march towards the Republican presidential nomination appear inevitable, and leaves Haley, despite her vow to battle on, no clear path to beating him.

Trump advisers said they plan to ignore Haley in an effort to render her campaign an afterthought. That would mark a change in tactics by a campaign that has trained intense fire on her in recent weeks, with a barrage of vitriolic online attacks, pressure on her donors to switch to Trump and public mocking by the former president.

On the sidelines of a Trump event on Friday, campaign co-manager Chris LaCivita outlined the blueprint succinctly when asked about Haley.

"Nikki who?" LaCivita told Reuters.

Yet despite Trump's victory in South Carolina, there were some red flags for him in his likely general election rematch with Biden in November, when independent and moderate voters will play a crucial role in determining the winner.

Among self-described independent South Carolina voters, 6 out of 10 chose Haley, according to an exit poll conducted by Edison Research, which also showed her securing a slim majority of the white college-educated vote.

Republican strategist Chip Felkel, who has been critical of Trump, pointed to the fact that Haley garnered 40% of the votes on Saturday, to Trump's 60%, a narrower margin of victory for Trump than many had predicted.

Referring to November's presidential election, Felkel said he still expected Trump to be the nominee, but said there were warning signs for the general election.

"If the basis of the vote was mostly Republican, or independent, and he's not getting four out of 10 of those, I'd say Biden could use that," Felkel said.


For her part, Haley defiantly vowed to press on to Super Tuesday on March 5, when voters in 15 states and one U.S. territory will deliver one-third of delegates to the Republican National Convention, which will choose a nominee in July.

"They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate," Haley told supporters on Saturday night after her defeat. "I have a duty to give them that choice."

Haley's campaign said on Sunday it had raised $1 million since her South Carolina loss. But Haley suffered a significant blow when AFP Action, an arm of the influential conservative Koch network that had been backing her candidacy, said on Sunday that it would no longer commit resources to her bid.

"Given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory," a senior advisor to the group, Emily Seidel, wrote in a memo obtained by Reuters.

Haley was due to travel to Michigan on Monday, where Republican nominating contests will be held on Feb. 27 and March 2. Her campaign released a video Sunday morning, called "The Fight Goes On."

Her campaign has released an aggressive schedule for the next several days, during which she will crisscross the country, from Massachusetts to Utah.

Haley had campaigned hard in South Carolina, the Southern state where she grew up and served as governor from 2011 to 2017. But Trump won by more than 20 percentage points, a margin wide enough that news outlets were able to call the race for him the minute that polls closed.

It remains to be seen whether Trump, who frequently goes off his teleprompter, can resist the urge to continue mocking Haley, against whom he has used language criticized as sexist and racist.

But Trump appeared to be following his advisers' strategy on Saturday. In a daytime address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he did not say Haley's name once.

That evening, minutes after the polls closed, he delivered a victory speech that again did not include a single Haley mention - a sharp contrast to his remarks after winning New Hampshire in January, when he angrily decried her refusal to quit the race.

As part of its pivot to November's general election, the Trump campaign is going to focus on planning for the party's July convention, fundraising and effectively merging with the Republican National Committee, LaCivita and co-manager Susie Wiles said in a memo this week.

"Nikki Haley is irrelevant and not newsworthy," the memo said.

Trump surrogates, meanwhile, were not shy about voicing their opinion that Haley should drop out of the race so that Trump could focus on the presidential election on Nov. 5.

Representative Russell Fry of South Carolina, who was onstage with Trump as he gave his victory speech, said he considered the race over.

"This is a primary in name only," he told Reuters. "And I think the Haley campaign is continuing to spend money and resources that could be better directed towards securing the White House."

But some donors have continued to offer Haley financial backing, arguing that she is the only alternative if Trump's campaign derails.

© Reuters. Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he hosts a South Carolina Republican presidential primary election night party in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S. February 24, 2024. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

He has pleaded not guilty to a slew of criminal charges and will face his first criminal trial next month in New York, where he is accused of falsifying business records to cover up an affair with a porn star.

"I think Nikki is the de facto backup for the GOP if something happens to Trump between now and the election," said one Haley donor, who asked to remain anonymous. "Probably a 2% chance, but if you are talking about being the leader of the free world, why not?"

Latest comments

“The lights are shining on me and I cannot see you everything is dark”
'nikki who?' was a genuine question from demented old diaper-donald who still thinks he's gonna run against Obama...
little braindamaged bill here sure knows his animal sounds.. give us another one...
the takeover of the Republican party by the Maga cult, trump and his allies in American neo-Nazis party is almost complete. sig heil Trump.!!
Isn't it the libs who support Hamas?  I'm confused..
Isn't it the libs who are chanting in support of Hamas?  I'm confused...
Comrade Haley is failing the establishment..
I'm seeing total government gridlock in the future, which normally I'd be all for. But the character of the presumed nominee and next President, and the nature of the tribe to whom he can do no wrong, makes gridlock an open invite to "extra-Constitutional" actions. Trump admires dictators, and he is openly inviting them to do their worst. Trump's previous admin was as much of a disaster as Biden's current one, and his next will be orders of magnitude worse. He won't make the same mistake he did before by hiring the best and brightest; he will hire yes-men and sycophants. The rest of the world sees what another Trump presidency means to them, and they're doing their best to rebuild their military defenses. Not because the fear Trump or the USA, but because the USA has lost it's mojo, its spirit, its way...morally speaking. Everyone knows what a POS Trump is, but enough are going to vote for him not caring or not realizing what kind of danger he poses. And yes, Biden is no better...STFW!
Put your Biden yard signs back outside DemocRats that way we know who else to deport along with tbe illegals next year.
aoc, your treason, hate for America and its Constitution is noted.
SC an open primary, who knows how many dems voted for Nikki. Wouldn’t be surprised if 10+%.
 That's why its an open primary. John doesn't need to get any fact straight, you need to recognize what facts are relevant.
 WOW 🤣🤣🤣
There is an open primary and there is no party registration. Get your facts straight.
Niki Who and Donald Duck.
and zombie biden
I have always liked Niki Haley for so many reasons but now I dislike her bad mouthing the House of Representatives for not giving Biden carte blanche.  She has lost me with that.
bett, likes the turmoil on the border that continues because Donald Trump need it as a campaign issue, and now Republicans have decided against their own immigration bill.
 stop lying like a Russian, ac
Oleg your the the one that supports the Putin bootlickers in the Republican party.
Nikki who? Lol she got 40% that’s a lot of dissent.
Unofficial results show 4% turnout in Saturday’s Democratic primary
Brad showing himself as a 🤡 once again. No wonder it's so easy for Democrats to keep these people in line
 There is a logic fallacy in this, not surprised it's over your head: "Assuming the 4% were Dem voters, that leaves 26% of Dem voters who could have voted for Nikki Haley, since 30% of the state are Dem voters." (Not to mention a factual error as there is no party registration in South Carolina). But carry on with your misunderstandings, it's what the magaloons do.
Its seems Trump do not have much respect for the 34% republicans who voted for Haley guess he thinks they are suckers and do not belong in the Trump party. Maybe they should seek understanding elsewhere?
That's true. I voted for Romney I voted for Mccain.If you won't vote for the guy we nominate. Never Trumpers should face the fact that they are liberals.
Come to think of it the RNC Alinskyites tried to rig the election process in 2016. Indistinguishable from DNC tactics. I was planning on voting for Ted Cruz at the time and had to vote for Trump when I saw them trying to forgo the voting and pick a candidate.
Are you suggesting there should be two candidates? or 7? And there will be 11 Presidents... It's strange that people who call themselves democrats don't know what Democracy is
Trump 2024!
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