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3 takeaways from the South Carolina GOP primary

Donald Trump has swept the traditional early states in the Republican presidential nominating contest after defeating Nikki Haley on Saturday in South Carolina.

News organizations called the race shortly after polls closed, suggesting Haley didn’t come particularly close to making it a contest in her home state. The most recent results show Trump leading 60 percent to 39 percent, with 75 percent of expected votes in.

Haley has insisted she’ll stay in the race through Super Tuesday, March 5, but the South Carolina results only reinforced her lack of a path to victory.

Below are some takeaways.

The result was not surprising, but it was significant. For example:

Trump was already the first non-incumbent Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s now added Nevada and South Carolina. Since those two states began having early nominating contests in 2008, he’s the only non-incumbent from either party to sweep them. (Trump won three of four in 2016, as did Barack Obama in 2008.)Losing your home state is rare for a major candidate who remains in the race: Think Elizabeth Warren in 2020 (finishing third in Massachusetts, 12 points behind now-President Biden) and Marco Rubio in 2016 (losing Florida to Trump by 19 points). Haley’s margin of defeat looks as though it will exceed both of them. Only relatively minor candidates such as Ron Paul (2008), Dennis Kucinich (2004), Alan Keyes (2000) and Pat Robertson (1988) lost their home states by more than it looks like Haley will, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted four years ago.South Carolina might have been Haley’s second-best shot at victory in any state. New Hampshire featured an inordinate number of independent and moderate voters — whom Haley does well with — and South Carolina had the home-state connection. But even though 8 in 10 South Carolina Republicans liked Haley during her two terms as governor, a Fox News/AP/NORC voter analysis showed nearly half of voters Saturday disliked her. And if voters in her home state don’t even like her much, the odds are voters elsewhere won’t.

It’s not likely to get better from here. Tuesday is the primary in Michigan, where Haley has trailed by even more than she lost each of the four early states. And ahead of a dozen states voting on Super Tuesday, her deficit nationally is north of 60 points.

Given the GOP nominating contest appears to be all but over, the biggest question now might be what the results say about Trump’s general election prospects.

A few exit poll findings stand out.

One is that 31 percent of voters said Trump wouldn’t be fit to serve as president if he’s convicted of a crime. South Carolina becomes the third early state to show that at least 3 in 10 voters said a convicted Trump wouldn’t be fit. (We don’t have data for Nevada.)

Just because these voters say he wouldn’t be fit doesn’t mean they wouldn’t vote for him, but it would surely be a hurdle for at least some voters to get over. And 5 percent of voters voted for Trump but said he would be unfit if convicted.

Another exit poll finding is that a large chunk of Haley’s support was expressly anti-Trump. While about 20 percent of voters picked her and said it was mainly an affirmative vote for her, well more than 1 in 10 voted for her while saying the vote was mostly against her opponent (Trump).

The NORC analysis showed that 35 percent of voters said they would be dissatisfied with Trump as the nominee, and 21 percent said they wouldn’t vote for him in the general election.

At least 20 percent of voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have now said they will not vote for Trump in November.

A major unknown from there is how many of these voters actually mean it — and would otherwise be in the GOP camp. South Carolina allows any voter to participate in the Republican primary. But just 4 percent of voters Saturday identified as Democrats.

In a defiant speech signaling she’d stay in the race earlier this week, Haley noted that nearly half of voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire had voted for someone not named Trump. She suggested that was “not good” since Trump is a “de facto incumbent.” “It spells disaster in November,” she said.

She added Saturday night of her vote share: “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.”

All of that might oversell how much of an anti-Trump GOP contingent there is. Iowa featured lots of votes for other Trump-aligned candidates. And South Carolina is Haley’s home state.

But what we can say in this moment is that Haley has effectively become a symbol of the anti-Trump vote.

Just 1 in 5 Haley voters said they would be satisfied with Trump as the nominee, and virtually the same number said Trump was physically and mentally fit to serve, according to exit polls. (Three-fourths said he was not.) Fewer said he would be fit to serve if convicted.

There are very few Haley voters who are casting Trump as a viable or acceptable alternative. And given both these numbers and the fact that Trump is on a glide path to the nomination — rendering votes for Haley something amounting to protest votes — we can effectively look at Haley’s vote shares from now on as a measure of Trump holdouts in the party as much as affirmative votes for her.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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