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Trump advised to focus on Biden’s weaknesses as he crushes rival in primary vote

Donald Trump at an election night watch party  in Columbia, South Carolina
Donald Trump at an election night watch party in Columbia, South Carolina - Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s advisers are urging him to stay focused on voters’ frustrations with Joe Biden and stop complaining about his legal troubles after his crushing Republican primary win over Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

Mr Trump decisively defeated his last serious GOP rival by a 20-point margin in her home state, where she was elected governor twice before joining the former president’s cabinet.

Ms Haley has vowed to “keep fighting”, but Mr Trump may have notched up an unassailable lead by “Super Tuesday” on March 5, by which point another 21 states and territories will have cast their ballots.

“I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now,” the 77-year-old told supporters at a victory party in Columbia, the state capital.

Trump aides said the Republican frontrunner was furious that Ms Haley gave a premature speech in New Hampshire that allowed her to frame the night as a success, before the full extent of her defeat was clear.

Determined to thwart a repeat, Mr Trump stormed on to the stage mere moments after the polls closed on Saturday to define the narrative of the night.

“It’s an early evening,” he said, beaming to the adoring audience and declining to mention Ms Haley by name.

Instead, he focused on the presidential election, telling the crowd: “We’re going to be up here on November 5 and we’re going to look at Joe Biden...  and we’re going to say ‘Joe, you’re fired’.”

Mr Trump was encouraged to stick to a script after a free-wheeling performance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland earlier in the day.

During his more than 90-minute speech to the Republican grassroots, he went on lengthy tangents, railing against his four criminal cases, which he dubbed “Stalinist show trials”.

Hours later in South Carolina, Mr Trump’s team of veteran political operatives appeared to have convinced the former president to follow the teleprompter and stay focused on November’s election.

Senior Trump aides said they intended to “pivot” after Saturday night’s primary and attack Mr Biden more than Ms Haley.

Nikki Haley meets supporters during the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election in Charleston, South Carolina
Nikki Haley meets supporters during the South Carolina Republican presidential primary election in Charleston - BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

Karoline Leavitt, the campaign’s national press secretary, suggested the GOP contest was over. “I think Nikki Haley already should have dropped out by now,” she said.

Andrew Boucher, chair of the Charleston Republican Party, said there had been demonstrable success in driving Republican voters’ focus to the presidential race.

“What [Saturday’s] turnout tells me is that they are mission focused to make sure we win in November,” he said.

“They are fired up. They’re angry with Joe Biden. That’s a motivated electorate on the Right side of the aisle and I think they’ll pay off big time in November.”

A senior Trump aide told The Telegraph the team was totally “focused on November following South Carolina”.

The aide pointedly noted that Mr Trump “did not mention Nikki by name” in his victory speech on Saturday.

Despite a string of consecutive wins in the Republican primaries, the results have exposed Mr Trump’s vulnerabilities among the general electorate.

He has struggled with university-educated and independent voters. In South Carolina, a little more than a third of independents backed Mr Trump while 53 per cent backed Ms Haley.

Fifth of Republicans won’t vote Trump

Meanwhile, more than a fifth of Republican primary voters said they would not vote for Mr Trump in November, according to AP’s VoteCast.

Consequently, Mr Trump’s team has urged him to focus on Mr Biden’s weak points in the polls – immigration and the economy – rather than discussing his own legal jeopardies.

Susie Wiles, the main architect of Mr Trump’s 2024 bid, is said to be ruthlessly focused on policy issues to maximise his appeal and has attempted to curb his discussion of his criminal cases where possible.

However, one adviser conceded there were limitations to the team’s ability to rein in Mr Trump. “We are not going to totally be able to move away from what is going on in his personal life,” they told NBC News.

“It’s going to be happening every day. He is a fighter and will talk about it. Everyone understands that.”