Ahead of South Carolina, Haley Supporters Remain Steadfast

Happy Friday! We know that “dog bites man” isn’t normally news, but it is when the “dog” is Commander, President Joe Biden’s German shepherd, and the “man” is multiple Secret Service agents in 24 total incidents at the White House and elsewhere. Bad dog!

Up to Speed

  • The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual gathering of conservative activists near Washington, began this week. Former President Donald Trump will speak midday on Saturday, and the conference will conclude with a “watch party” for the results of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary that evening. 
  • The theme for this year’s conference, which is put on by the American Conservative Union, is “Where Globalism Goes to Die,” and the slate of speakers continues to have a particularly “MAGA” feel. There are also several potential running mates for Trump scheduled to appear at CPAC, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. J.D. Vance.
  • In an apparent nod to the political problem facing his administration, Joe Biden is reportedly considering taking executive action to address the ongoing crisis of illegal crossings and an overwhelming number of asylum claims at the southern border with Mexico. Among the possible actions would be stopping migrants from claiming asylum when caught crossing the border illegally between ports of entry—a significant provision of the bipartisan Senate immigration deal that was scuttled earlier this year.
  • The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last week that frozen embryos are children and owed the same legal protections under the state’s wrongful death statute. The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by multiple couples whose frozen embryos were removed from storage by a hospital patient and destroyed. The decision has prompted multiple providers in the state that perform in vitro fertilization (IVF), a fertility treatment that often results in the creation of multiple embryos that are cryogenically frozen, to pause the practice as they evaluate the legal risk the ruling poses.
  • The Alabama decision has thrown the future of IVF into the political arena, with the Biden campaign denouncing the decision as “outrageous and unacceptable.” Meanwhile, after Nikki Haley initially stated in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday that she believes embryos are babies and that she sees “where that’s coming from when they talk about that,” the Republican presidential candidate told CNN on Thursday that she never said she agreed with the ruling and that Alabama “needs to go back and look at the law.” Multiple Republicans distanced themselves from the ruling and expressed support for legal protections for IVF, including Maryland Senate candidate Larry Hogan and Govs. Bill Lee of Tennessee, Brian Kemp of Georgia, and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. Several House Republicans, particularly those in closely divided districts, have also said they support keeping the procedure legal.
  • We’ve reported before in Dispatch Politics about the effort to encourage Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters to participate in open Republican presidential primaries—including the election in South Carolina tomorrow—with the goal of stopping Trump. The group PrimaryPivot has a small budget, but has used it to target Democratic voters who did not vote in their party’s presidential primary earlier this month and urge them to vote for Haley. The group has purchased ad time on radio stations in the Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville markets geared toward black audiences. The 60-second spot tells listeners that “voting for Nikki Haley will keep the pressure on Trump and get under his skin” and reminds them that voting in the Republican primary in February means you can still vote for Biden in the general election.
  • Dirty tricks are as ubiquitous in Republican primaries in South Carolina as shrimp and grits are in the Lowcountry. But still, when a Dispatch reader who lives in Greenville tipped us off to this voicemail he received, we felt compelled to check it out: “Hi, this is Jeri from the RNC just asking you to vote for Donald J. Trump. Have a good evening.” Our rationale for looking into it? Trump has pressured the Republican National Committee to lend his presidential bid more support, even though he has yet to secure the 1,215 delegates he needs to become the party’s presumptive 2024 nominee. But the RNC assured us late Thursday the national party is not calling South Carolina voters urging them to support Trump over Haley.

Haley Voters Haven’t Given Up on Trump Upset

Republican presidential hopeful and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks with supporters at a campaign stop in Georgetown, South Carolina, on February 22, 2024. (Photo by Julia Nikhinson/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks with supporters at a campaign stop in Georgetown, South Carolina, on February 22, 2024. (Photo by Julia Nikhinson/AFP/Getty Images)

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—Don’t tell Nikki Haley’s supporters that her quest for the Republican presidential nomination is futile.

“She’s a fighter,” Dave Rafferty, a 68-year-0ld Army veteran, told Dispatch Politics on Thursday as he waited for the former South Carolina governor to hit the stage outside of a bar and grill in this popular seaside resort town. “A lot of us believe that she has the ability to win. You don’t drop out. There’s been, what—three primaries? It’s not over till it’s over.”

Rafferty, who retired to South Carolina, is a regular Republican voter who supported Donald Trump, the former president and likely GOP nominee, in 2016 and 2020. Not this time—and possibly not even versus President Joe Biden in November. Rafferty hasn’t resolved that dilemma, yet. 

Connie Papantonio is in the same boat. A Republican voter who previously pulled the lever for Trump, she now backs Haley, so much so that she traveled to Myrtle Beach, from her home in North Carolina, to catch the underdog contender in person.

“She should stay in” the race, said Papantonio, a retiree who worked in health care. “She has a good chance.”

Neither Rafferty, Papantonio, nor other voters we talked to at Haley rallies in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, South Carolina, had given up on underdog Republican contender. This is despite her losing the first four caucuses and primaries (Iowa, New Hampshire, U.S. Virgin Islands and Nevada) to Trump—and despite her long odds against him on Saturday in the Palmetto State. Not to mention, polls currently show the former president with a wide lead nationally over his former cabinet official.

Perhaps Haley supporters are taking a cue from the candidate. 

She hosted two overflow, outdoor campaign events Thursday afternoon that each attracted several hundred people; possibly more. And the former governor looked and sounded nothing like a politician who has yet to win a contest and isn’t favored in her home state, or any of the primaries and caucuses yet to come. Trump leads Haley in the race for convention nominating delegates, 63 to 17, and could reach the magic number of 1,215 by the end of March.

“Don’t listen to the media; don’t listen to what they’re saying. I stopped listening to them months ago,” Haley said toward the end of her rally in Georgetown, a quaint waterfront town 60 miles north of Charleston. “Listen to your friends and your family; listen to your neighbors. Listen to everybody who’s begging to get our country back on track, because our voices are a lot louder than their voices, and we can get this done.”

Haley’s dogged determination is quite frustrating for Trump and his grassroots supporters, who are itching to consolidate the Republican Party and pivot to a general election campaign against Biden. 

“She needs to step back and say Trump is the leader and back Trump, because if we don’t put Biden out of office in November, we’re moving to Hungary—my wife’s Hungarian,” said Douglas Benton, 70, a retiree who worked in the information technology industry who was donning a blue, “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. “I can’t stand this anymore. The chaos is just nuts.”

Benton, a grassroots Trump supporter, showed up just outside of Haley’s rally in Myrtle Beach to wave a giant “Trump 2024” flag, as did a few other backers of the former president. His fear if the 45th president doesn’t win his rematch with the 46th president? “We will be a third-world country,” Benton predicted.

Not every Haley supporter we interviewed believed their preferred candidate has a realistic chance of winning the Republican nomination. Plenty are aware Trump is likely to remain undefeated after South Carolina votes on Saturday, collecting all 50 of the state’s delegates to the convention in Milwaukee. And they’re aware of the polling in the states beyond. But they nonetheless showed up to cheer Haley on, saying her decision to keep fighting when many other candidates might have ended their campaign is both cathartic and gives them hope for the future.

“What we need is what she’s bringing to us,” said Jim Hennig, 65, a Republican voter and Navy veteran who attended Haley’s rally in Georgetown. “If Trump is going to be the eventual person, we need her values brought in, about the veterans, about the border. No one’s listening to us.”

Sam Brown’s Abortion Triangulation

Nevada Senate GOP candidate Sam Brown took an unusual approach to try to defuse the politics of the abortion issue this week, sitting down for a joint NBC News interview with his wife, Amy, who talked about her experience having an abortion when she was a 24 years old, in a previous relationship and serving in the Army.

Amy Brown’s comments were well-received by the media—as well as a leading national pro-life group.

“I was under the impression that I was choosing freedom. But I did not receive freedom,” Amy Brown told NBC News. “I received a five-year sentence to living with regret and shame and just having my life wrecked.” She said she felt pressured to go through with the abortion due to her career and regretted that no one helped talk her through the options of adoption and parenting.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, praised Brown for telling her story. “Amy Brown’s story, shared on national television, gives a voice to women across America who are grieving past abortions,” Dannenfelser told The Dispatch. She pointed to a study conducted by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute that found nearly 70 percent of abortions are “coerced, unwanted, or inconsistent with women’s preferences.” 

“Amy’s story and the reality of the abortion coercion women face should be driving the national conversation on abortion,” Dannenfelser continued. “Both parties should be coming together to build up America’s safety net so that no woman should feel alone or pressured to undergo an abortion she does not want.”

In the same interview, however, Sam Brown’s statements on abortion policy left Dannenfelser cold. The candidate, who’s attempting to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, said he would not support any federal ban on late-term abortions and that he respects Nevada’s permissive abortion law, which allows abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks and includes a mental-health exception beyond 24 weeks. 

“This is a disappointing answer given that he is running for U.S. senator to make policy for the entire country—a country that is currently more aligned with China and North Korea on abortion than it is with the rest of the civilized world,” Dannenfelser argued. “It is America’s permissive abortion law that allows abortion coercion to run rampant, resulting in lives lost and women hurt. It’s time for politicians to stand up and courageously fight back.”

When Sam Brown ran for the Texas state legislature nearly a decade ago, he defended the state’s 20-week abortion limit by saying the life issue was “nonnegotiable” for him. But in his NBC News interview, the Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient said he respects Nevada’s law, which “voters put in place over 30 years ago.” How does he claim to be pro-life and respect that abortion law? An aide to Brown told The Dispatch that the candidate “respects the decision of Nevada voters, even though he is personally pro-life.” 

In 1990, Nevadans affirmed the state’s law in a referendum and ensured it cannot be changed without a future one. As for the pro-life policies Brown actually supports, the GOP Senate candidate says on his website: “I will oppose any bill that pushes for federal funding of abortion, late term abortions, or abortion without parental notification. And I will support federal judges who understand the importance of protecting life.”

Notable and Quotable

“I don’t have time to hear more than two hours of bullshit about us. About the world, about the United States, about our relations.”

—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when Fox News anchor Bret Baier asked if he had watched Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin, February 22, 2024
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