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Commentary: If Nikki Haley Cannot Win Her Home State of South Carolina, She Cannot Win

by Robert Romano


Former South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s aspirations against former President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination appear to all come down to the state of South Carolina in the Feb. 24 GOP primary there, with Trump heavily favored to win after easily sweeping Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Since the primary’s inception in 1980, South Carolina has correctly picked the eventual nominee in the Republican primary nine out of ten times, with 2012 being the lone exception where Newt Gingrich won the state but lost the nomination to Mitt Romney, who had won in New Hampshire that year.

In fact, no Republican has ever come back to win the nomination after losing Iowa and New Hampshire, although Democrats Bill Clinton and Joe Biden managed to pull it off in 1992 and 2020, respectively, with wins in South Carolina. That is the glimmer of hope that remains for the Haley campaign.

To her advantage, South Carolina is her home state, and so a favored daughter campaign win could potentially emerge, as it did for favored son wins for Ronald Reagan in California in 1968 in the Republican nominating contest or Tom Harkin in Iowa in 1992 or John Edwards in South Carolina in 2004 for the Democrats, although in none of those cases did those wins help the candidate to secure their party’s nominations.

Haley’s advantage, if she has any, is that her home state happens to be a state known for picking winners on the Republican side, and that two presidents, albeit on the Democratic side, managed to pull comeback victories with wins there. And so, if she were to win in South Carolina, she could at least justify pressing onward.

On the other hand, no Republican has ever swept the primaries in modern history in a competitive primary, as Trump appears poised to do. Nor has any Republican in modern history ever won the GOP nomination after losing Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina consecutively, as Haley may be on the brink of.

In other words, if Nikki Haley cannot win her home state of South Carolina against former President Donald Trump, she cannot win. A loss for Haley in South Carolina would be devastating to her campaign, and likely lead for further calls for her to drop out and throw her support behind Trump.

After Trump locked up New Hampshire on Jan. 23, Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning endorsed Trump and urged Haley to get out of the race: “It is time for former Governor Nikki Haley to end her campaign in order that the focus can turn to defeating Joe Biden and his attempt to finish the fundamental transformation of America promised by Barack Obama.”

So far, though, the polls do not look great for Haley, with Trump averaging 60 percent support in the South Carolina primary according to RealClearPolling.com, with Haley averaging just 29.3 percent.

Trump remains extremely popular there, and owes his win for the GOP nomination in 2016 over Ted Cruz to back-to-back wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina. After that, there was very little hope for Cruz to come back even as the contest persisted. But Cruz had at least won Iowa, and ended up winning a respectable 11 states overall including a favored son win in Texas.

Haley on the other hand, might not win any states at all, with Trump also leading the March 5 Super Tuesday states of Alabama, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia with massive leads, according to a Jan. 23 to Feb. 4 Morning Consult poll, leading by more than 50 points on average.

And then the states after that look even worse for Haley, with supermajorities in the Morning Consult in every state: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The outcome of the polls led Morning Consult lead U.S. politics analyst Cameron Easley to comment “The wealthy Republican donors who continue to bankroll Haley’s campaign appear to be just as well off setting their cash on fire. The only thing left to do in this race is count the votes…”

That might be true. Meaning, Trump could be on the verge of locking up the Republican presidential nomination in record fashion by sweeping the primaries, and after the Feb. 24 South Carolina primary, for Nikki Haley, all bets could be off.

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.
Photo “Nikki Haley” by Nikki Haley.



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