World

Trump enters South Carolina primary looking to embarrass Haley in her home state

Donald Trump went into the primary with a huge polling lead and the backing of the state’s top Republicans.

Residents have been voting in the South Carolina Republican primary (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Residents voting in the South Carolina Republican primary Residents have been voting in the South Carolina Republican primary (Andrew Harnik/AP) (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Former president Donald Trump is looking to win his fourth straight primary state on Saturday over Nikki Haley in South Carolina, aiming to hand a home-state embarrassment to his last remaining major rival for the Republican nomination.

Mr Trump went into the primary with a huge polling lead and the backing of the state’s top Republicans, including senator Tim Scott, a former rival in the race.

Ms Haley, who served as UN ambassador under Mr Trump, has spent weeks criss-crossing the state that twice elected her governor warning that the dominant front-runner, who is 77 and faces four indictments, is too old and distracted to be president again.

In all but one primary since 1980, the Republican winner in South Carolina has gone on to be the party’s nominee. But Ms Haley has repeatedly vowed to carry on if she loses her home state, even as Mr Trump positions himself for a likely general election rematch against US President Joe Biden.

Donald Trump is favourite to win the Republican nomination (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Donald Trump Donald Trump is favourite to win the Republican nomination (Andrew Harnik/AP) (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mr Trump’s backers, including those who previously supported Ms Haley during her time as governor, seemed confident that the former president would have a solid victory on Saturday.

“I did support her when she was governor. She’s done some good things,” Davis Paul, 36, said as he waited for Mr Trump at a recent rally in Conway. “But I just don’t think she’s ready to tackle a candidate like Trump. I don’t think many people can.”

Mr Trump has swept into the state for a handful of large rallies in between fundraisers and events in other states, including Michigan, which holds its Republican primary on Tuesday.

He has drawn much larger crowds and campaigned with governor Henry McMaster, who succeeded Ms Haley, and Mr Scott, who was elevated to the Senate by Ms Haley.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Trump accused Ms Haley of staying in the race to hurt him at the behest of Democratic donors.

Nikki Haley is Mr Trump’s last remaining major rival for the Republican nomination (Chris Carlson/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley voting Nikki Haley is Mr Trump’s last remaining major rival for the Republican nomination (Chris Carlson/AP) (Chris Carlson/AP)

“All she’s trying to do is inflict pain on us so they can win in November,” he said. “We’re not going to let that happen.”

Ms Haley has made an indirect appeal to Democrats who in large numbers sat out their own presidential primary earlier this month, adding into her stump speech a line that “anybody can vote in this primary as long as they didn’t vote in the February 3 Democrat primary”.

Some of those voters have been showing up at her events, saying that although they planned to vote for Mr Biden in the general election, they planned to cross over to the Republican primary on Saturday as a way to oppose Mr Trump now.

Meanwhile, a survey found many voters in South Carolina’s Republican primary want a United States that is less willing to openly challenge Russia – a sign of how the Cold War-era Republican establishment has given way to Mr Trump’s “America First” ethos.

On the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and days after the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, AP VoteCast found a Republican electorate with lukewarm feelings toward Nato and scepticism about the value of confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin. About six in 10 oppose continuing aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

People voting in the South Carolina Republican primary (Andrew Harnik/AP)
People voting in the South Carolina Republican primary People voting in the South Carolina Republican primary (Andrew Harnik/AP) (Andrew Harnik/AP)

About half of South Carolina’s voters want the US to take a less active role in solving the world’s problems. Only about a third described America’s participation in Nato as “very good”, with more saying it is only “somewhat good”.

This pullback from the world is not entirely about isolationism. Most Republican voters still support aid for Israel for its war against Hamas. But Republican voters choosing between Mr Trump and Ms Haley see the biggest threats against the US as internal rather than external.

As was the case in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, voters say immigration is the country’s most pressing problem.

About eight in 10 favour building a wall along the US-Mexico border, and roughly three quarters say immigrants do more to hurt than help the country.

The similarities seen across the Republican primary contest points to an electorate that has become less regional in nature and more nationalised in terms of beliefs and priorities.