After South Carolina, Trump’s march to the nomination quickens

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The reality has been clear for weeks, since former President Donald Trump trounced his opponents across the frozen fields and icy highways of Iowa. But his overwhelming victory on Saturday in South Carolina, where he defeated Nikki Haley in her home state, makes it all but official.

The Republican nominating contest isn’t a competition. It’s a coronation.


The party primaries this winter represented the best chance for Republicans who were opposed to the former president to oust him from his dominant position in the GOP. The stakes were extraordinarily high: Many of his Republican opponents see Trump as, at best, unelectable and, at worst, a threat to the foundations of American democracy.

And yet, as the campaign has moved through the first nominating contests, the race has not revealed Trump’s weaknesses, but instead the enduring nature of his ironclad grip on the Republican Party. From the backrooms of Capitol Hill to the town hall meetings of New Hampshire to the courtrooms of New York City, Trump shows no sign of being shaken from his controlling position in the party — not in 2024, and not in the foreseeable future.

“I think the party will be done with Trump when Trump is done with the party,” said David Kochel, a longtime Republican strategist who is opposed to Trump. “That’s the long and short of it.”

All of Trump’s primary rivals, except Haley, have folded and endorsed his candidacy. He has conquered state parties and the Republican National Committee, installing loyalists in key posts, and collected the backing of vast numbers of Republican elected officials. And what once appeared to be extraordinary political liabilities — the 91 felony counts against him, his increasingly extreme rhetoric, his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — have only served to bolster his support among the Republican faithful.

With his victory Saturday, Trump has swept all the early nominating contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, South Carolina — an unprecedented achievement in a contested primary race. He heads into Super Tuesday on March 5, when one-third of all delegates to the GOP convention will be awarded, with “maximum velocity,” said the Republican governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, who endorsed Trump over his predecessor, Haley.

Haley has vowed to remain in the race, scheduling events in the coming days in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah. On Saturday night, she argued that broad swaths of the Republican primary electorate still wanted an alternative to Trump.

“They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate,” she told supporters at her election night party. “And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

Haley has a point: In Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump won with about half of the vote, indicating that his support may have a ceiling even within his own party. In exit polls and surveys, Haley backers expressed negative views about Trump, indicating that a faction of the Republican coalition has concerns about the former president.

But those Trump skeptics are not a majority of the party. Nor have they been enough for Haley to win a primary race, leaving her running a campaign that many Republican strategists and officials believe is headed toward inevitable defeat.

“This is the fastest primary process since I can remember,” said Ron Kaufman, a Republican presidential strategist who has been involved in primary campaigns since Ronald Reagan ran in 1976. “There isn’t anyone who doesn’t perceive Trump being the nominee, including Nikki Haley. Whether you like it or don’t like it, everyone understands he is the perceived nominee.”

Barring a spring surprise — a debilitating health issue, a legal event — Trump appears to be on a rapid march to the Republican nomination. It’s a reality that shows how Trump has driven his party — and the nation — into a new era where once-unthinkable policies and rhetoric have become standard. Trump has floated breaking from NATO, conducting mass deportations and prosecuting his political enemies.

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