A combative Nikki Haley brought her presidential campaign back to South Carolina on Wednesday after a disappointing defeat the day before in New Hampshire, and told a raucous crowd in a cavernous North Charleston ballroom that she would fight Donald J .Trump for the Republican nomination.
“The political elites in this state and across the country are saying we just have to let Donald Trump have this,” she told her supporters, who scoffed at the idea. “Listen. Only two states voted. We have 48 more.
Nowhere is more important than South Carolina, where she served two terms as governor before being chosen to become Mr. Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations. But just because it’s his home state doesn’t mean it’s friendly territory. As Ms. Haley sought to reinvigorate her campaign here on the ground, Republicans as diverse as local party officials and the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee stepped up pressure for her to drop out. By pleading for perseverance, the former president significantly solidified his support.
As she spoke, the Trump campaign released a new list of South Carolina endorsers that now includes the state’s two senators, most of its House members, its governor and lieutenant governor, as well as much of his State House – more than 150 names in all. .
“Welcome to Trump Country, Nikki,” quipped Austin McCubbin, Mr. Trump’s South Carolina director.
On Wednesday, some of Ms. Haley’s closest allies and confidants continued to insist that Ms. Haley had lived up to her own expectations: She had won the field and was now in the two-person contest she wanted, with enough time until the February 1 primaries. 24 to spread her message to a broader electorate and draw contrasts between her and Mr. Trump.
“For those of us in South Carolina, we saw people doubt her, and we saw her overcome those doubts,” said Kim A. Wilkerson, retired president of Bank of America in Carolina of the South and chair of the board of trustees of Clemson University, Ms. Haley’s alma mater.
But those doubts seemed to snowball, and the drumbeat for its removal only grew louder.
“Republican voters have sent a clear message: They want to see the Republican Party unite around our eventual nominee, who will be President Donald Trump,” wrote Georgia Republican Party Chairman Josh McKoon and Republican delegates of the State in a joint press release. statement Wednesday. “It is difficult to see how Ambassador Haley will secure the nomination.”
Even the chief strategist for Ms. Haley’s super PAC, the SFA Fund, Mark Harris, acknowledged Wednesday that she needs to expand her support state by state to remain viable, with South Carolina the next big target.
“We need to do better with the Republicans; we have to do better with the conservatives,” he said on Wednesday. “We absolutely need to grow in these key demographics to give us a realistic path to nomination.”
Mr. Harris said Ms. Haley and her super PAC would be in the race for the long haul. He pointed to the 17 Republican delegates she collected with second place in New Hampshire and third place in Iowa. Until the winner of most states wins all of that state’s delegates, Ms. Haley can continue to increase her delegate count, giving her leverage to claim the nomination if circumstances arise, such as a criminal conviction on the one of 91 crimes he faces, drives Mr. Trump out of the race.
But Republicans in South Carolina and across the country feared that this strategy would only anger Mr. Trump and his supporters, thereby disqualifying her from consideration — this year or in the future.
Donors who don’t wait in line could also find themselves at odds with Mr. Trump. In an article on Truth Social on Wednesday evening, Mr. Trump vowed: “Anyone who makes a ‘contribution’ to Birdbrain” — Mr. Trump’s nickname for Ms. Haley — “from this point forward, will be permanently excluded from the MAGA camp . .”
Chad Connelly, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party who remained neutral in the race, raised concerns: “Nikki is well-liked here, and Trump is well-liked,” he said. “He’s going to roll it.”
History would tell Ms. Haley that the weeks leading up to South Carolina’s Republican vote can be difficult. After Senator John McCain of Arizona won the New Hampshire primary in 2000, he traveled to South Carolina, predicting that the state’s open primary would bring Democrats and independents to his cause. Instead, a whisper campaign by supporters of George W. Bush, then Texas governor, spoke darkly and falsely about a black girl fathered by Mr. McCain out of wedlock. (He and his wife had adopted a girl from an orphanage in Bangladesh.)
Mr. McCain’s defeat in South Carolina put Mr. Bush back on track to win the nomination.
Mr. Trump hinted Tuesday night at a brutal campaign ahead.
“Just a quick note for Nikki,” he said during his victory speech, mocking Ms. Haley’s dress. “She’s not going to win. But if she did, she would be investigated by these people in 15 minutes, and I could already give you five reasons why.
Hollis Felkel, a veteran Republican political consultant in South Carolina who worked for the Bush campaign in 2000 and goes by the name Chip, said Trump supporters were already scrambling to have as many state lawmakers and senators in the former president’s column — and to let lawmakers know there are. a list of those who are not. The dirty tricks of the 2000 campaign weren’t exactly “legends,” he said, but they were “pretty bad.”
“We are now facing a whole new level of vitriol, and politics has gotten exponentially uglier” since 2000, he said. “She’s going to be hit on all sides by all the insinuations and all the grudges that are left over from her days as governor.”
In recent days, online influencers with close ties to the Trump campaign began posting misogynistic and highly sexualized videos and images of Ms. Haley on social media. One of the videos, produced by a group called Dilley Meme Team, uses “deep fake” technology to put sexual innuendo into his own voice. A second, published while New Hampshire voters were still at the polls on Tuesday, discusses allegations of marital relations that she has constantly denied but which have dogged her since she was governor.
“The people of South Carolina are much better than South Carolina politics,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for the Haley campaign. “Nikki Haley has proven that she fights and wins for the people, no matter what kind of trash the political class throws at her.”
And Ms. Haley has stepped up her own attacks on Mr. Trump’s mental faculties, his age and his courage.
“Get on the debate stage and let’s go,” she said at her rally. “Bring it on, Donald, show me what you’ve got.”
On Wednesday morning, she delivered her usual speech via Zoom to the Republican Party of the US Virgin Islands, where caucuses are scheduled for February 8.
Meanwhile, the fundraising work to keep the campaign going despite a wave of support for Mr. Trump continued apace. A major fundraiser is planned in New York on January 30, co-hosted by billionaire financier Kenneth G. Langone and investors Henry Kravis and Stanley Druckenmiller. Another is planned for Houston shortly after.
Privately, however, his supporters fall into two camps, according to donors, fundraisers and donor advisers who spoke primarily on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. First there are those who are dutifully fulfilling their fundraising obligations, even though they believe Mr. Trump’s nomination is all but assured and will likely step down within weeks.
And there are those — primarily donors whose resistance to Mr. Trump is absolute — who are still all in agreement, believing that Ms. Haley needs the financial resources to wrest the nomination from Mr. Trump, or at least to maintain his campaign alive. in case something happens to him.
“Just keep her in this race,” said Fred Zeidman, a Texas businessman and one of Ms. Haley’s strongest backers. “She’s the last one standing.”
As for his super PAC, Mr. Harris said he consulted his biggest donors after the New Hampshire loss. “They are motivated and we are confident that we will have the resources we need,” he said.
Timothy C. Draper, a venture capitalist and early Haley supporter who was a major contributor to the PAC, said in an email Wednesday that “Democratic women who are likely to vote for Nikki should register now as Republicans to bring him enough delegates to win.” the primary.
Mr. Draper’s view joins a dynamic highlighted by many donors on Wednesday: Ms. Haley is running in the Republican primary, but in some ways she is acting as a third-party candidate, enjoying support from both sides. This bodes ill for Ms. Haley, but it also suggests weaknesses for both Mr. Trump and President Biden.
“There are all kinds of warning signs for Trump,” said Eric Levine, a New York lawyer who is co-organizing the Jan. 30 fundraiser. “He polled very poorly, very poorly, with independents and moderate Republicans. These are precisely the voters he will need to win the Swing States.”
But after New Hampshire, Ms. Haley’s underdog campaign could be on life support. Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, urged the party “to unite around our eventual nominee, which is Donald Trump.” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, supported it, as did Senators John Kennedy of Louisiana and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
Pete Hoekstra, the party chairman in Michigan, where Haley’s campaign is targeting South Carolina, also backed Mr. Trump and said in a statement: “We can start focusing our efforts on BEATING Joe Biden, rather than the party. struggle.”
A Democratic state representative from South Carolina, JA Moore, said he wanted Ms. Haley to stay in the race and step up her attacks on Mr. Trump, unless she dropped out and supported Mr. Biden.
But, he warned, “she’s going to get creamed here.”
Ken Bensinger And Jazmine Ulloa reports contributed.