After a South Carolina Defeat, Haley Pitches Herself as the Normalcy Candidate

Happy Monday! We hope you embrace the highs and lows of the week with the same unfettered enthusiasm that Argentinian president Javier Milei showed Donald Trump at CPAC over the weekend. Throw in some Village People for good measure.

Up to Speed

  • Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary Saturday with a hair under 60 percent of the vote, besting the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, by 20 points. Trump won all but three of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Of the 50 delegates to the Republican National Convention up for grabs, Trump won 47—29 for winning the state overall, plus three delegates from each of the six congressional districts he won. Haley earned three delegates for winning the 1st Congressional District, which includes parts of Charleston and Beaufort, two of the three counties she won.
  • The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, endorsed Trump for president on Sunday. “The primary results in South Carolina make clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president in this year’s pivotal presidential election. The choice before the American people is crystal clear: It’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” Thune told Fox News. Thune had previously supported Sen. Tim Scott before the South Carolina Republican dropped out of the race.
  • Haley, meanwhile, is getting mixed signals on the finance front about staying in the race. On the one hand, the political network associated with libertarian billionaire Charles Koch is “suspending” its efforts to boost Haley financially through Americans for Prosperity’s PAC, Politico first reported. But as Fox News reported on Sunday, Haley is claiming to have raised $1 million online since her defiant concession speech Saturday night.
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, warned his caucus a government shutdown could begin at the end of this week following the failure of congressional leaders to craft a spending deal during talks this weekend. Schumer’s Sunday letter to his colleagues, obtained by Bloomberg, placed the blame on House Republicans for needing “more time to sort themselves out.” Without a spending deal or a temporary stopgap, funding could run out for several federal departments as early as March 2, with a total government shutdown starting on March 8.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson pushed back on Schumer, arguing in a statement that House Republicans were negotiating in “good faith” and blaming Democrats for mucking up discussions. While the speaker has said he’s willing to make a deal to avoid a shutdown, some of Johnson’s most strident members have been pushing him to walk away if he cannot force deep spending cuts and tougher immigration provisions into a deal—elements that are almost certainly a nonstarter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
  • In its monthly tracking poll, Gallup found President Joe Biden’s approval rating is now at 38 percent, just 1 point higher than his record low, recorded in April 2023. That’s a far cry from 50 percent, a target for any president hoping to get reelected, and an approval level the president hasn’t hit since July 2021. Biden gets low marks in particular for his handling of immigration (67 percent disapproval), the Israel-Palestinian conflict (62 percent), foreign affairs (62 percent), and the economy (61 percent).
  • Republicans who want to be Trump’s running mate are reaching out to an unlikely source for advice and guidance: former Vice President Mike Pence. “Following Trump’s win in Iowa, intermediaries for Rep. Elise Stefanik, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and Sen. Tim Scott have all sought out meetings with a former adviser to Pence this year, asking for intel on how to survive the gantlet of being vetted in a Trump veepstakes,” Politico reports. Pence served Trump loyally for four years before earning his enmity after he was unwilling to stop Congress from counting electoral votes for the 2020 election. 
  • In a widely expected move, Ronna McDaniel announced Monday she would resign as chairwoman of the Republican National Committee to make way for the likely election of Trump’s handpicked replacement at an upcoming RNC meeting in Houston. These upcoming changes at the RNC will put the likely GOP nominee in firm control of the committee. However, as The Dispatch reported Saturday, some party insiders are attempting to maintain some level of separation between the Trump campaign and the RNC, proposing resolutions to bar the committee from paying for the frontrunner’s legal bills stemming from indictments in four criminal cases and ensure neutrality in the Republican primary until the former president secures the requisite 1,215 nominating delegates.

Nikki Haley Offers Voters Something Unusual: Normalcy

Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event on February 25, 2024, in Troy, Michigan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event on February 25, 2024, in Troy, Michigan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

MOUNT PLEASANT, South Carolina—Nikki Haley is running on “normal.”

The former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is discussing a range of issues with voters at her campaign rallies as she continues her seemingly impossible bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Whether talking about the border crisis, national security, or the need for an economic revival, Haley hits all of the notes expected of a GOP White House hopeful taking aim at a Democratic incumbent.

But the Republican Party’s calendar of caucuses and primaries now approaches March, with Haley still searching for weapons that might puncture the inevitability of a third consecutive nomination for the candidate standing between her and President Joe Biden: former President Donald Trump. The underdog contender has taken to pitching voters on a return to normalcy. Hardly a throwaway line, this message has emerged as a featured component of Haley’s effort to woo grassroots conservatives, as well as the independents and Democrats allowed to participate in various GOP nominating contests. 

Speaking to supporters who gathered at sunset Friday for a final South Carolina campaign rally at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant—alongside the naval museum that houses the U.S.S. Yorktown, an aircraft carrier that saw battle in World War II—Haley made an impassioned case against both parties’ likely nominees. “Joe Biden calls anyone who doesn’t support him ‘fascist.’ And Donald Trump calls anyone who doesn’t support him, ‘vermin.’ That’s not normal,” she said. “Our kids deserve normal; they deserve to know what normal feels like.”

Haley, who proceeded to lose to Trump in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, 59.8 percent to 39.5 percent, has vowed to stay in the race at least through the March 5 Super Tuesday primaries and is in the midst of a national campaign swing. She dashed to Michigan Sunday in advance of its Tuesday primary and has more events scheduled in several other states as this week unfolds.

Candidates running for high office, especially the presidency, tend to deliver the same stump speech over, and over, and over again. That repetitiveness and predictability can bore political reporters and strike some voters as inauthentic. It’s why Trump’s campaign rallies, with the former president just riffing extemporaneously for hours, are so appealing to so many of his supporters—he’s entertaining and appears unscripted. Still, there’s also value in repetition. 

Many voters who show up at a candidate’s campaign rally are there for the first time. To them, that same old stump speech is brand new. Meanwhile, those same old lines in that same old stump speech reveal something: A candidate’s priorities and, additionally, what he or she believes resonates with voters. In that way, Haley’s emphasis on normalcy is instructive, as is the fact that the message was carried by the surrogates who introduced her at each rally.

Take a look at how top Haley supporter Scarlett Wilson, the Republican solicitor (district attorney) for Charleston and Berkeley counties, made the former governor’s case in Mount Pleasant as she revved up the crowd. “I’m Scarlett Wilson, with that ‘R’ behind my name,” she said. “And that ‘R’ stands for Republican. And it also stands for rational, reasonable, respectable.”

“That ‘R’ stands for getting the right thing done,” Wilson continued. “That ‘R’ stands for results. And, you know what else that ‘R’ stands for? It stands for normal. And I know normal doesn’t start with ‘R,’ but it still stands for normal. Because that’s what she can bring to us: normalcy.”

We heard these and similar lines from Team Haley—repeatedly—down the stretch of the race for South Carolina’s 50 delegates to the Republican nominating convention. And they always generated cheers from the audience.

Of course, as Haley is learning, “normal” isn’t high on the agenda for the majority of Republican primary voters. Trump’s rise in 2016—and staying power since then, despite all of his setbacks—is evidence enough of that. So are his victories in all five states to have voted in the Republican primary thus far.

But neither does that mean the voters attracted to Haley, and the throwback era of “normal” politics she’s attempting to channel, are a rump faction of the GOP that can be ignored.

Haley seemed to acknowledge as much during her concession speech on Saturday evening. “Today, in South Carolina, we’re getting around 40 percent of the vote,” she said. “That’s about what we got in New Hampshire too. I’m an accountant. I know 40 percent is not 50 percent. But I also know 40 percent is not some tiny group. There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”

Trump’s CPAC About-Face: From Revenge to Liberty

Our own John McCormack attended the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington on Saturday to cover Donald Trump’s speech to the gathered activists. The annual event has become dominated by Trump and the MAGA movement—Kellyanne Conway once referred to it as “TPAC”—and the former president’s speeches to the group are as revelatory as they are instructive to Trump himself about what the base of the GOP wants to hear. Here’s an excerpt from John’s report:

Revenge was an important theme in Trump’s CPAC speech too, just as it was last year. In March 2023, the last time polling ever suggested that Trump faced a serious threat in the GOP primary, he made headlines at CPAC with the pledge: “I am your warrior; I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.” Trump went on to explain how he would fulfill that pledge: “I will totally obliterate the deep state. I will fire the unelected bureaucrats and shadow forces who have weaponized our justice system.”

But at CPAC 2024, with the GOP nomination in the bag, Trump modified his message in a notable way. “Your liberty will be our ultimate reward and the unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge,” he told the crowd on Saturday. His 2024 CPAC speech focused more on sealing the border, drilling for oil, and achieving peace through strength. On Saturday, the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Trump claimed the invasion never would have happened if he were president: “Remember, they said Obama gave pillows and Trump gave Javelins.” He claimed Israel would have never been attacked on October 7, 2023, because “Iran was broke” due to sanctions and that while he would have gotten the United States out of Afghanistan he would have never given up Bagram Air Base because it is located near western China.

With that said, Trump’s 2024 CPAC speech certainly indicated he thinks there is more to exacting revenge than enacting MAGA policies. While Election Day 2024 would be “liberation day” for hard-working Americans, Trump said, “for the liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and imposters who have commandeered our government, it will be their judgment day.”

Read the whole thing here.

Notable and Quotable

“Get out Joe, you’re fired.”

—Donald Trump, speaking after winning the South Carolina primary, February 24, 2024
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