Trump Marches Into South Carolina With Base, Top Republicans in Train

Nathan Worcester
By Nathan Worcester
February 19, 2024Donald Trump
Trump Marches Into South Carolina With Base, Top Republicans in Train
Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump gestures to supporters after speaking at a Get Out The Vote rally at the North Charleston Convention Center in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 14, 2024. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

CHARLESTON, S.C.—With the Republican nomination all but secured despite a longshot challenge from Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s campaign is heading toward the South Carolina primary election this weekend with overwhelming support from the grassroots and the party elite in the Palmetto State.

During the last contested GOP primary in 2016, the state’s top Republican elected officials split in their endorsements for the presidential primary.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Then-Gov. Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

This time around, the vast majority of top South Carolina Republican politicians have scrambled to associate themselves with the former president that their constituents love.

The youngest lawmakers have risen politically on the strength of the former president’s endorsements. In South Carolina, as elsewhere, the GOP is increasingly President Trump’s party.

Mr. Graham, Mr. Scott, and Gov. Henry McMaster are among the many top South Carolina GOPers who have thrown in with President Trump.

Mr. McMaster, no latecomer to MAGA, endorsed and stumped for the future victor in 2016, back when Mr. McMaster was still lieutenant governor. CNN reporting from the time records Mr. Graham telling a Charleston newspaper, the Post and Courier, that he didn’t “know what Henry’s thinking is.”

The former president, who has a long memory for such things, has brought up Mr. McMaster’s early backing on the 2024 campaign trail as well as the fact that Ms. Haley “supported somebody else” that year.

“Seven years ago, Henry and [First Lady] Peggy were unbelievable,” President Trump said in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 14.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) is the sole South Carolina Republican in Congress who has stood with Ms. Haley.

“I could care less I’m the only one out there,” Mr. Norman told The Epoch Times. “I don’t really care what people say about me.”

Why has he bucked the pro-Trump trend? “I think competition is what built America,” he said.

The competition in this case includes what looks like the final stages of a once-sprawling contest that has narrowed to a two-person race.

Ms. Haley, he argued, would carry out Trump-like agenda items on energy, deportations, and more while drawing in more independent and young voters. She would also be poised to run again in 2028.

In his conversation with The Epoch Times, Mr. Norman made an unabashedly pro-Haley case. But the fact that his pro-Haley case wasn’t more anti-Trump may speak to the political realities on the ground.

That’s as true in much of America as it is in Mr. Norman’s own district, which President Trump carried by a huge margin in 2020.

NTD Photo
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at a campaign event in Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Feb. 1, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

If polls were an indicator, President Trump’s margin in South Carolina is shaping up to be huge as well. A survey conducted Feb. 1-8 by Florida Atlantic University and Mainstreet Research showed President Trump leading his sole Republican rival by 42 points among probable primary voters, at 65 percent to 23 percent.

Another recent poll from CBS News and YouGov showed President Trump with a smaller yet still sizable lead among such voters, at 65 percent to Ms. Haley’s 30 percent. Early voting is already underway ahead of the Feb. 24 contest.

Pro-Trump Republicans Weigh In

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), one of the six South Carolina Republicans in the House to have endorsed President Trump, had a theory as to why her colleague is sticking with Ms. Haley.

“He’s a very loyal person,” she told The Epoch Times after speaking at a Team Trump event in Mt. Pleasant on Feb. 2.

Mr. Norman and Ms. Haley were both freshmen South Carolina state legislators in January 2005, a fact that Mr. Norman noted.

“She beat a 30-year incumbent,” he said, referring to Larry Koon, who served before Ms. Haley in South Carolina’s 87th District from 1975 through 2004.

Ms. Mace hit Ms. Haley hard on China during her Mt. Pleasant appearance, drawing attention to the receipt of free land in South Carolina by China Jushi, a fiberglass manufacturer, in 2016, when Ms. Haley was governor.

“She rolled out the red carpet for China in South Carolina,” Ms. Mace said.

China appeared to be less dangerous when Ms. Haley was seeking investment from it during the mid-2010s, Mr. Norman told The Epoch Times.

China now is our real threat,  he said. It is “actively seeking to destroy this country.”

Rep. Bill Timmons is another South Carolina GOP congressman who has endorsed President Trump.

He occupies the 4th District seat previously held by former federal prosecutor Trey Gowdy, who endorsed Mr. Rubio in 2016, and who in 2018 disagreed with President Trump that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had spied on the future commander-in-chief’s 2016 campaign.

“The American Dream was alive and well when President Trump left office,” Mr. Timmons told The Epoch Times in a Feb. 7 phone interview.

Ms. Haley and her backers have challenged President Trump on foreign affairs. As part of a $6 million ad buy in South Carolina, one Nikki Haley for President commercial shows the former president meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The narrator asserts that President Trump wants to see Russia come out ahead in the Russia-Ukraine war, citing articles from Politico and CNN.

“With a world on fire and a crisis at home, America can’t afford Donald Trump’s chaos and unhinged policies,” a national spokesperson for the Haley campaign, Olivia Perez-Cubas, said in a statement accompanying the ad’s release.

“The war in Ukraine would have never happened if Trump were in the White House, and if he’s reelected, it will end within days of his election,” Mr. Timmons told The Epoch Times.

While Ms. Haley’s campaign seeks to link President Trump to disruptive and negative “chaos,” Mr. Timmons, like other Trump allies, argues that a certain unpredictability has worked to his advantage on the world stage.

“He [will] say some pretty outlandish things,” Mr. Timmons began, before adding that those comments mean America’s rivals and adversaries “won’t know whether what he’s saying is true—they don’t know what he’ll do.”

“I believe that the United States has a critical role in global leadership. That role of global leadership is to stand fast against totalitarian governments—to hold people accountable for violating the rule of law and international human rights violations,” he continued.

“When you have weak leadership, the world is unsafe. And Joe Biden is the weakest president that we’ve ever had.”

Unlike Ms. Mace, who stressed her admiration for Mr. Norman and called him a “great American,” Mr. Timmons spoke unsparingly about the man who has backed his primary opponent in 2024, Republican South Carolina State Rep. Adam Morgan—the chairman of the statehouse’s Freedom Caucus.

“Ralph is apparently developing a history for endorsing bad candidates,” Mr. Timmons said.

In text messages to The Epoch Times, Mr. Morgan struck back.

“Ironically, Nikki’s main pitch in SC is that she was an outsider who took on the establishment in the SC Legislature. The fact is the SC Freedom Caucus is the face of the anti-establishment, conservative movement in SC, and we know Nikki is not one of us,” Mr. Morgan said.

He pointed out that much of his caucus has endorsed President Trump but that Ms. Haley lacks support from those in the more conservative wing of statehouse Republicans.

He had a response to Mr. Timmons’ “bad candidates” quip, pointing out that Mr. Timmons donated to Mr. Graham’s 2016 presidential campaign in 2015, as shown by Federal Election Commission disclosures.

Mr. Timmons also donated thousands of dollars to Mr. Rubio’s campaign, particularly later that year, before giving $500 to the Trump campaign in late August 2016.

“He also called January 6 protestors ‘insurrectionists’ and ‘domestic terrorists,’ laying out the Never Trump argument to remove the President from the ballot,” Mr. Morgan wrote.

He provided a Jan. 8, 2021, press release from Mr. Timmons.

“Anyone who was complicit in these acts of domestic terrorism should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This act of insurrection cannot go unpunished,” the congressman said in that document.

By contrast, Mr. Morgan described Mr. Norman, the Haley endorser, in positive terms, calling him a “principled conservative.”

Haley Rallies Continue

Despite widespread opposition from her own party in South Carolina, Ms. Haley has continued campaigning throughout the Palmetto State. She held events on Feb. 12 and 13 in Laurens, Elgin, and Summerville, among other locales.

South Carolina’s open primary and lack of party registration creates more room for Democrats and liberal-leaning independents to boost her against President Trump. In New Hampshire’s primary, also relatively open, 70 percent of her vote came from individuals other than registered Republicans.

But Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison has declared that “South Carolina Democrats are not going to vote for” the former governor.

Still, even the worst polling for Ms. Haley shows double-digit support for her from likely Republican primary voters. Some GOPers in the Palmetto State remain loyal to their former governor, or particularly averse to choosing President Trump again.

NTD Photo
A pickup truck displaying flags including flags in support of President Donald Trump cruises past the site of a Nikki Haley campaign event in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 1, 2024. (Lawrence Wilson/The Epoch Times)

Ms. Haley’s strongest soldiers include Timothy and Amy Dillinger, a husband-and-wife team who were greeting attendees ahead of a Haley speech at New Realm Brewing Company in Charleston on Feb. 4. They’ve volunteered at multiple Haley events.

“I voted for him [Trump] twice, and never again,” Mr. Dillinger, a retired teacher, told The Epoch Times. “Like, sorry, you lost my support when you started talking smack about people.”

Ms. Dillinger, who said she worked for Estée Lauder for many years, told The Epoch Times that the events are taxing for her because of a physical disability. The next day is always hard.

“When I work for Nikki Haley, I pay with sweat and tears,” she said.

Ms. Dillinger emphasized that the pain is worth it: “I’m very passionate about what she stands for.”

Yet, even as Ms. Haley packs restaurants and similar-sized venues, the views among attendees of massive Trump events in South Carolina may be closer to the norm among South Carolina Republican primary voters.

“I think Nikki Haley’s good, but she needs to wait her turn,” Rod Smith, an attendee of Trump’s Conway rally, told The Epoch Times.

“I don’t want my grandson going off to wars,” Katie Ambrose told The Epoch Times at that same rally.

Joseph Lord contributed reporting.

From The Epoch Times

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