Trump soundly defeats Nikki Haley in South Carolina Republican primary

<span>Donald Trump celebrates his primary victory in Columbia, as Tim Scott looks on.</span><span>Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images</span>
Donald Trump celebrates his primary victory in Columbia, as Tim Scott looks on.Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Donald Trump defeated Nikki Haley in her home state of South Carolina, a stinging setback that narrows her vanishingly thin path to the nomination.

The Associated Press called the South Carolina primary for Trump right when polls closed at 7pm ET, in a clear indication of his large victory in Haley’s home state. Trump locked in approximately 60% of the vote, with Haley hovering at about 40%.

Palmetto State voters have a long history of choosing the party’s eventual nominee, and Trump is on track to clinch the Republican nomination months before the party’s summer convention in Milwaukee.

“I just want to say that I have never seen the Republican party so unified as it is right now,” Trump told supporters at his victory party in Columbia. “This is a fantastic evening. It’s an early evening, and fantastic.”

Trump had stormed through the early voting states, racking up wins – and delegates – in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Beating Haley, who served as his ambassador to the United Nations, in her home state delivers another stinging blow to her candidacy, moving the nomination even further out of her reach.

Addressing supporters in Charleston, Haley insisted she would not drop out of the race despite her four straight losses, arguing that Trump is unable to defeat Joe Biden in the general election.

“What I saw today was South Carolina’s frustration with our country’s direction. I’ve seen that same frustration nationwide. I share it. I feel it to my core,” Haley said. “I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I will continue to run for president. I’m a woman of my word.”

Haley’s campaign announced on Friday it was launching a “seven-figure” national cable and digital buy ahead of Super Tuesday on 5 March. On Sunday she will host a rally in Michigan, which holds its primary on 27 February, before embarking on a cross-country swing through several Super Tuesday states.

Her refusal to be driven from the race has frustrated Trump and his allies. They say Haley, who has compared herself to David taking on Goliath, has no path to victory, and accuse her of relying on wealthy donors to keep her long-shot bid alive and merely prolong the inevitable.

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said on Saturday before polls closed: “The fact is that Haley’s campaign has now turned into a full-fledged Never Trump operation with her as Crooked Joe Biden’s biggest surrogate. The primary ends tonight, and it is time to turn to the general election.”

But Haley’s supporters say they are grateful for her presence in the race as a reminder of what a future Republican party might look like. Some believe the 52-year-old Haley is laying the groundwork for a future presidential run, or positioning herself to be the obvious second choice in the extraordinary event Trump can no longer serve as the party’s nominee.

Trump faces 91 felony charges as well as mounting legal fees and vast financial penalties that he has tapped his campaign fund to help pay. At her events, Haley tells voters that it is “not normal” for a candidate to spend more time in the courtroom than on the campaign trail, or to ask donors to foot his legal bills.

But Trump’s legal travails, which stem in part from his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and his role in the 6 January assault on the US Capitol, have only strengthened his support.

In recent days, Trump’s campaign has already started to turn its attention toward the general election contest against Biden, who is gliding to his party’s nomination without a serious primary challenge. Trump’s team has moved aggressively to take control of the Republican National Committee, which is expected to remain neutral in the primary.

South Carolina primary: read more

Trump began his day in Washington, where he delivered a dark speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) before returning to South Carolina to attend an election-night watch party in the state capital, Columbia.

Earlier in the day, Haley cast her ballot on Kiawah Island, her home precinct. Later, her cross-state Beast of the Southeast bus tour rolled into Charleston, where she spoke at an election-night watch party. In her remarks to supporters, Haley framed her presence in the race as a democratic obligation.

“In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” Haley said. “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

Even as Haley has vowed to stay in the primary race as long as possible, Trump has made clear that he is already turning his attention to the general election. When he addressed his supporters in Columbia, Trump predicted that his decisive victory in South Carolina would soon be replicated in Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday.

“Michigan’s up. We’re going to have a tremendous success there. And then we have a thing called Super Tuesday,” Trump said. “South Carolina, thank you very much. Go home. Get rest. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Joe Biden weighed in on Saturday night as the results from South Carolina came to a final close.

He said in a statement: “In 2020, I ran for president because the very soul of America was at risk. Last night in South Carolina, Donald Trump stood on stage to make shameful, racist comments that tap into a hatred and divisiveness that is the very worst of us. We all have more to do to push towards a more perfect union, but Trump wants to take us backwards.”

He added: “Despite the threat that Trump poses, I will say again to the American people: I have never felt more optimistic about what we can do if we come together. Because I know that America believes in standing up for our democracy, fighting for our personal freedoms, and building an economy that gives everyone a fair shot.

“To Republicans, Democrats, and independents who share our commitment to core values of our nation, join us. Let’s keep moving forward.”