Ahead of South Carolina GOP primary, Haley vows to continue running

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley arrives at a rally in Greer, S.C., on Monday. MUST CREDIT: Melina Mara/The Washington Post

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Nikki Haley struck a defiant tone Tuesday (Feb. 20, 2024) as she promised not to leave the Republican primary contest soon and escalated her attacks on front-runner Donald Trump.

Despite middling polling numbers and ahead of an expected loss in her home state of South Carolina this weekend, the state’s former governor said she is “far” from dropping out of the race, and she vowed to stay in it until at least after Super Tuesday, when 15 states and one U.S. territory vote on March 5.

“South Carolina will vote on Saturday,” Haley said. “But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere.”

Haley came in third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and finished an embarrassing second to the “none of these candidates” ballot option in a Nevada primary in which Trump didn’t compete. Public polling shows her losing badly to Trump in South Carolina, despite her popularity as governor there. Trump leads Haley among likely Republican primary voters in the state by 63 percent to 35 percent, according to a new Suffolk University-USA Today poll released Tuesday.

In her Tuesday remarks – in which she compared herself to David fighting Goliath – Haley also turned to Republicans who have lined up behind Trump despite disavowing him behind closed doors. She blamed this on a “herd mentality,” arguing that many of her Republican colleagues have surrendered to it.

“Many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump privately dread him,” she said. “They know what a disaster he’s been and will continue to be for our party. They’re just too afraid to say it out loud.”

Former GOP presidential candidates, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), criticized Trump on the campaign trail but quickly endorsed him after ending their bids.

In her speech, Haley said that, unlike her former opponents, she feels “no need to kiss the ring.”

“I have no fear of Trump’s retribution,” she said. “I’m not looking for anything from him.” Haley’s promise to remain in the race is consistent with her recent remarks on the campaign trail. She nevertheless has been incessantly questioned about her intent to stay the course.

“We’re going to keep on going,” she said Tuesday. “I will take the bruises. I will take the cuts. This is going to be messy, and I’ll take the hurt because I believe nothing good comes easy. Sometimes we have to feel the pain to appreciate the blessing.”

After South Carolina, Haley has events planned in Michigan – the next state to vote – and the Super Tuesday contests of Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Massachusetts. After Tuesday’s event, her campaign announced a new ad buy that will launch in Michigan on Wednesday morning.

Earlier in the primary process, Haley said she would support Trump if he ultimately becomes the Republican presidential nominee. On Sunday, during an interview with ABC News’s “This Week,” she would not say if that is still the case, despite being repeatedly pressed by host Jonathan Karl. Instead, Haley said she is running against Trump because she believes he should not be president again.

On Tuesday, she doubled down on this, saying Trump is “getting meaner and more offensive by the day.”

“He wants an election with no opponent,” she said. “But that’s not what voters are saying. Despite being a de facto incumbent, Donald Trump lost 49 percent of the vote in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Trump lost 46 percent of the vote. That’s not good. We’re talking about almost half our voters.”

She also emphasized that she is staying in the race to give Republicans a choice other than Trump.

“People have a right to have their voices heard, and they deserve a real choice, not a Soviet-style election where there’s only one candidate and he gets 99 percent of the vote,” Haley said. “We don’t anoint kings in this country – we have elections. And Donald Trump, of all people, should know we don’t rig elections.”

Ahead of Haley’s remarks, the Trump campaign sent a memo deriding Haley as a “wailing loser hellbent on an alternative reality” who refuses “to come to grips with her imminent political mortality.”

Haley addressed her record thus far in the primaries during her Tuesday remarks, noting that the naysayers repeatedly say that her “path to victory is slim.”

“They point to the primary polls and say I’m only delaying the inevitable,” she said. But, she added, the “presidential primaries have barely begun.”

“Just three states have voted,” she said. “Three. That’s it. After this weekend, we’ll be at four. That’s not a lot.”

The former U.N. ambassador then set her sights on the other major candidate running for the White House – President Biden. Throughout her entire campaign, Haley has argued that both Trump and Biden are “too old” to be president, an argument she repeated Tuesday.

“Trump and Biden are two old men who are only getting older,” she said. “They’re dividers at a time when America desperately, urgently, needs a uniter.”



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