Donald Trump cruised to a lightning victory on Saturday in South Carolina’s Republican primary, blitzing rival Nikki Haley in her home state and continuing his march to the nomination and a White House rematch with Joe Biden in November.
Trump completed a sweep of the first four major nominating contests, converting a year of blockbuster polls into a likely insurmountable lead going into the “Super Tuesday” 15-state voting bonanza in 10 days.
Haley had vowed to fight on regardless of the outcome but Trump, seeking to move quickly from the primary to the general election, did not mention her once during a victory speech in which he turned his fire on Biden.
“We’re going to be up here on November 5 and we’re going to look at Joe Biden – we’re going to look him right in the eye, he’s destroying our country – and we’re going to say, Joe, you’re fired. Get out,” Trump said to cheers at his victory party in state capital Columbia.
Haley has repeatedly questioned the 77-year-old former president’s mental fitness and warned another Trump presidency would bring “chaos”, but her efforts appeared to do little to damage his standing among Republicans.
By about 7am (1200 GMT) on Sunday, major national news outlets had Trump just shy of 60% of the vote, with almost all votes counted.
US networks had felt able to call the race for Trump within seconds of the polls closing, suggesting little doubt over the outcome.
David Darmofal, a politics professor at the University of South Carolina, said that the speed of Trump’s projected victory confirmed him as “effectively the presumptive Republican nominee for president”.
“This quick call is a bad result for former governor Haley in her home state. The quickness of the call will likely lead to additional pressure for her to drop out of the race,” he told AFP.
Haley, a popular governor of South Carolina in the 2010s and the only woman to have entered the Republican contest, was looking to outperform expectations in her own backyard and ride into Super Tuesday with wind in her sails.
However, she was never able to compete in a battleground that preferred Trump’s brand of right-wing “America first” populism and personal grievance over the four criminal indictments and multiple civil lawsuits he faces.
Trump had already won Iowa by 30 points and New Hampshire by 10, while a dispute in Nevada led to the real estate tycoon running unopposed in the first official contest in the western United States.
Biden reacted to the South Carolina result with a brief written statement warning Americans of “the threat Donald Trump poses to our future as Americans grapple with the damage he left behind”.
Meanwhile, Haley reminded supporters as she congratulated Trump in her concession speech that she had already vowed to fight on, regardless of the outcome.
“I’m a woman of my word. I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” she said.
“Forty per cent is not some tiny group,” Haley said of her vote share. “There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”
Trump aides have been clear that they want to see off Haley long before the Republican National Convention in July – and are expecting the party to coalesce around the front-runner ahead of the first of his criminal trials on March 25.
A traditional conservative who espouses limited government and a muscular foreign policy, Haley has argued that a Trump presidency would be mired in scandal from day one.
Her central argument – that polling shows her performing better than Trump in hypothetical matchups with Biden – may have fallen on deaf ears but she has vowed to stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday.
Analysts say she is building her profile for a potential 2028 run – and is poised to step in should legal or health problems knock Trump out of the race.
“Nikki Haley’s an incredible role model,” said one Republican voter, Julie Taylor. “She’s not giving up, she’s showing strength and grace and courage.”
Related Story