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The Hill
The Hill
23 Feb 2024
Niall Stanage


NextImg:Trump rallies the MAGA base in South Carolina, aiming to finish Haley

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Former President Trump rallied a packed, raucous crowd here on Friday afternoon as he sought to deliver a final blow in the battle for the GOP nomination.

Around 6,000 people lined up hours in advance to see Trump in a Winthrop University sports arena on the eve of the South Carolina primary.

Trump leads his sole remaining rival, Nikki Haley, by more than 30 points in the polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ. 

Haley was born and raised in the state, and twice elected as governor — an office she left to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

There is no love lost between them now. 

“She’s going to have a very bad day tomorrow because she’s not a nice person,” Trump told the crowd here, accusing Haley of “working for Democrat donors” and having “gone very far left.”

Ironically, given Trump’s penchant for personal invective, he also complained that Haley is “very rude.”

The crowd that showed up for Trump on Friday was far bigger — and broadly, more working class — than the audiences that have come out to Haley’s rallies here in the final days. 

Haley has insisted Trump would lose a general election, mocked him for his failure to serve in uniform and accused him of having temper tantrums.

The Haley team says she will stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday, March 5.

On Friday morning, Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, told reporters that the campaign had booked a seven-figure national ad buy with an eye on the road ahead. Ankney declined to address any “benchmarks” regarding a result here on Saturday that might drive Haley out of the race.

There appears to be a full-court press from Team Trump to push Haley to the exit, however.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told The Hill in a brief interview that Haley is “delusional” and was about to be “humiliated” in her home state. As she walked through the arena speaking with The Hill, the controversial congresswoman was interrupted several times by well-wishers.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), a one-time Haley ally who recently endorsed Trump, told The Hill that she expects a “resounding” victory for Trump on Saturday and added that she “didn’t want to hear Republicans continuing to take shots” at him afterward. She confirmed she was talking about Haley, whose attacks she contended could be damaging in a general election.

Meanwhile, from the stage, Sen. Tim Scott  (R-S.C.) drew raucous applause when he asserted “the Republican primary is over and Donald Trump is our nominee.” 

Scott was first nominated to the Senate by Haley. Haley’s son, Nalin, at one point branded him “Senator Judas” on social media.

During his speech, Trump may have boosted Scott’s standing in the running-mate speculation

Trump called Scott “the greatest surrogate I’ve ever seen” and contended that he is “a much better representative of me than he is a representative for himself.”

During his 91-minute speech, Trump also addressed the hot controversy over the ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court holding that frozen embryos are, legally, people.

Trump reiterated his support for IVF treatment. In the Truth Social post earlier in the day, Trump said he supported “the availability of fertility statements like IVF in every State in America.”

He echoed the same language almost precisely at his rally, casting his position as support for “couples who are trying to have a precious, little, beautiful baby.”

Republicans, he contended, should always be on the side of the “miracle of life.”

The crowd here in this city of around 75,000 people, near the state line with North Carolina, seemed to be more interested in Trump’s “greatest hits” than the nuances of court rulings in Alabama, however.

They responded enthusiastically to his usual false claims of election fraud in 2020, his attacks on the media and his allegations that the four criminal indictments he faces are evidence of a political plot against him.

In fact, one of the loudest ovations he received during his speech was his assertion that the charges against him are “bulls**t.” Another was when, during an extended riff on his physical superiority to President Biden, Trump implied he could literally blow the president over.

Carl Williams, a pastor from Fort Mill, S.C., told The Hill that he believed Haley to be “Democrat-funded” whereas Trump “cares about America and cares about the people. He isn’t just in it for the money.”

Williams also noted his belief that “the Lord” would “reinstate” Trump for one more term.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.