Feb 27, 2024

Trump wins South Carolina primary.

Trump wins South Carolina primary.
Trump with his Vice President Mike Pence in 2019. Photo by History in HD / Unsplash

Plus, what about the evidence against Joe Biden?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Donald Trump wins the South Carolina primary while Nikki Haley's path to the nomination narrows. Plus, a reader question about the evidence against Joe Biden.

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Quick hits.

  1. The Michigan primary elections are today. President Joe Biden is facing a campaign of voters pledging to cast "uncommitted" ballots in protest over his handling of Gaza, and former President Trump has a wide lead over Nikki Haley in the polls. (The primary
  2. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh resigned yesterday as a coalition of U.S. and Middle East nations call to reform the party in hopes it can oversee Gaza post-war. (The resignation) Separately, during an appearance with late night host Seth Myers, President Biden said a ceasefire could come as soon as this weekend. (The comments)
  3. The Federal Trade Commission sued to block grocery chain Kroger from merging with its competitor Albertsons, saying the $25 billion acquisition would reduce competition and hurt wages. (The lawsuit)
  4. A Manhattan district attorney requested a limited gag order against Trump in his hush money trial. (The request) Separately, Trump appealed the $454 million fine he received in the civil suit against him for fraud. (The appeal
  5. A hazmat team and emergency services were sent to the home of Donald Trump Jr. after he received a threatening letter that contained white powder inside. A spokesman for Trump Jr. said a lab test of the powder came back inconclusive. (The scare

Today's topic.

The South Carolina primary. On Saturday, former President Donald Trump defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the state's primary election by roughly 20 points. Trump received 59.8% of the vote to Haley's 39.5%, with Ron DeSantis — who had dropped out — getting 0.4% of the vote. Trump has now won nearly every delegate in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, all but assuring his victory heading into Super Tuesday on March 5.

Still, Haley — who retains ample donor cash — says she is going to stay in the race. Polls had shown Trump outperforming Haley by a 2-to-1 margin, and after the loss her team trumpeted the fact she has repeatedly out-performed the polls in the primary. Yet, unless Trump drops out or his legal troubles prevent him from finishing the race, there does not appear to be any path for Haley to the nomination.

"Today is not the end of our story," Haley declared. "[Voters] have the right to a real choice — not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate."

Trump’s win was led by men and white voters, exit polling showed, and he dominated in both rural and suburban areas in South Carolina. Haley was more popular with moderate and liberal primary voters, but no other groups. Trump dominated among Republicans, with exit polls showing he won 73% to Haley's 26%.

The Trump campaign has continued to criticize Haley's decision to stay in the race, saying she is preventing them from focusing on the general election.

“Nikki Haley should do the only honorable thing and that’s drop out,” senior Trump adviser Chris LaCivita said before South Carolina's polls closed. He added that Haley was raising money from Democrats “who want to keep her in to do nothing but do Joe Biden’s dirty work.”

Today, we're going to take a look at some commentary about the results from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right says that it’s obvious Trump will be the nominee, praising him for his America-first policies and garrulous personality.
  • Many criticize Haley, saying that her staying in the race makes it clear that she has anti-conservative motives.
  • Others worry that Trump’s smaller-than-expected victories spell trouble for the party in November.

In The American Spectator, Charles Lipson wrote about the reasons Trump effectively clinched the Republican nomination.

"First, the voters in these contests are the party’s activist base, and Trump fundamentally reshaped that base during his first run for president and his White House years. He moved the party sharply away from its center-right traditions toward populism, away from free trade and international alliances toward nationalism. His slogan, 'America First,' encapsulates those changes. So do his strenuous efforts to limit illegal immigration and roll back the Administrative State," Lipson said.

"Second, the former president remained atop the party because his campaign appearances reassured the base that he is the same energetic, entertaining, anti-Establishment candidate they have supported ever since he rode down the Trump Tower escalator in 2015. They like his policies; they love his attacks on entrenched elites; they think the legal cases against him are unfair, political prosecutions; and they firmly believe he can defeat a weak President Biden," Lipson said. Those voters "have real doubts about Haley’s commitment to Trump’s populist agenda, an agenda they strongly support."

In The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy criticized Haley as a "proxy for Joe Biden."

"Whatever her campaign is about, it isn’t a good-faith attempt to win the Republican nomination," McCarthy said. "It was already clear after New Hampshire that Haley had no realistic prospect, nor even a longshot prospect, of taking the nomination from Donald Trump. She can’t even mount a serious challenge on her home turf. But Haley helps Biden, and in doing so she might make a new career for herself."

"Distract and deplete—keep Trump from focusing his attention on Biden, and starve his campaign of funds by making him spend on legal defense instead of elections," McCarthy wrote. “Haley plays a useful part in this project, and she’s aware of it. Her value to Biden doesn’t lie in dividing the Republican Party or in keeping open another front on which Trump has to spend limited resources... Nikki Haley’s campaign isn’t about voters; it’s about donors... Haley is not growing in popularity and winning converts to her cause within the GOP. Her campaign could fight on after New Hampshire only because the donor class would permit it."

In National Review, Noah Rothman questioned whether we were seeing Trump's ceiling in performance.

"Across the first three early contests in South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Iowa, a consistent pattern has emerged: Trump underperforms his polling," Rothman wrote. "Trump went into the election in New Hampshire beating Haley by over 19 points in the polling average. He beat her by about eleven points. The spread in South Carolina favored Trump by over 23 points, but his margin of victory ended up at around 20 points.

"These relatively small discrepancies hardly constitute polling error once the peaks and valleys in the polling landscape are smoothed out in the aggregate," Rothman said. "But, as Cook Political Report analyst Amy Walter wondered, these results may also suggest Trump’s vote share in pre-election polling represents a hard ceiling on his support — a threshold he approaches but never quite achieves, much less exceeds."

What the left is saying.

  • The left acknowledges that Trump will be the candidate, but bemoans a Republican party that embraces his recklessness.
  • Some criticize Haley for not becoming the best version of herself to beat Trump.
  • Others castigate the entire process, saying the Republican party is becoming a cult of personality.

In The Atlantic, Sarah Longwell explored how Donald Trump “became unbeatable.”

“Today, thanks to Trump’s dominant performance in South Carolina, the Republican primary is all but over… How did we get here? First, you can’t beat something with nothing. The Republican field didn’t offer voters anything new. Nikki Haley and Mike Pence cast themselves as avatars of the pre-Trump GOP. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy did their best to imitate Trump, presenting themselves as younger and more competent stewards of the same MAGA agenda. None of them offered a viable alternative to Trump.”

“The second theme: Trump’s competitors declined to hit him on his 91 felony counts, despite the fact that voters say they have serious concerns about them. Instead, most of them (with the honorable exceptions of Christie and Asa Hutchinson) actively defended Trump,” Longwell said. “Lastly, Trump started to be seen as electable. This represented a big shift from a year ago… These voters have come to believe that the election is a choice between senility and recklessness. And they’ve decided they prefer the latter.”

In Newsweek, Christie Lindor wrote about “the candidate Nikke Haley could have been.

“Nikki Haley has once again fallen short—by a mile and in her home state of South Carolina— losing the Republican presidential primary there to former President Donald Trump. Even the Koch organization is pulling its support,” Lindor said. “In her attempt to walk a tightrope across the party line and beat former President Donald Trump at his own game, she's fumbled the nomination, though her zombie campaign continues on.”

“On one debate stage, Haley slammed the concept of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). For those of us who know something about Haley, this was a glimpse into where contradictions might lie,” Lindor wrote. “In 2015, Haley shared that her father had been racially profiled at a fruit stand when she was a child—an experience that stuck with her viscerally ever since. Someone who has both witnessed and experienced numerous hardships due to inequality should understand the need to fix it. If you're listening closely, there is more to the story—but Haley hasn't offered it to us.”

In Vox, Zack Beauchamp said the “joke” of South Carolina’s primary actually “tells us something deadly serious.”

“The 2024 Republican primary isn’t and never has been a competitive primary. Trump simply wasn’t going to lose a contest for the hearts and minds of the Republican base,” Beauchamp wrote. “I and others have been arguing this for years now. Yet during those same years, many prominent people in politics and the media deluded themselves into thinking he might be dethroned. They have been wrong every time.”

“Trump’s cult is the product of his unique ability to channel the cultural grievances at the heart of the current Republican Party,” Beauchamp said. “By making his very person into a stand-in for the existential struggle for America’s soul, he has created a world where any loss represents an intolerable blow against everything good about the country. Such a setback can only come from a place of deep corruption — from ‘the Swamp’ and ‘Democrat-controlled cities.’ And if American democracy has truly been subverted this thoroughly, the logical conclusion is clear: We have to ‘fight like hell’ to save it.”

My take.

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  • It’s possible Haley’s staying in the race to become the nominee or simply raising her profile for the future.
  • It’s also possible that she’s making a run for VP — though that’s a lot less likely.
  • The main story remains the same: Trump is cruising to the nomination.

It’s not getting any less obvious: Trump has the nomination locked up. The biggest question left for me is why Haley is staying in the race. From my perspective, there are three plausible options.

Option 1 is that she genuinely believes Trump might be prevented from getting the nomination. That is, she views herself as an insurance plan in the event his legal troubles (or health, given his age) somehow catch up with him and the party is left needing a nominee in November. In that scenario, Haley — the last remaining person fighting Trump, who has the donors and who polls extremely well against Biden — would be a good pick for the GOP.

Option 2 is that she’s thinking about 2028. Haley has a long future ahead in Republican politics and what she's doing now might be an attempt to affirm her brand. She is a fighter, she doesn't give up, she won't back down, and so on. Being seen and framed over and over as the No. 2 to Donald Trump, the party's leader, may not play well in the short term, but it comes with a lot of long-term benefits. It means when Trump’s gone, she’ll be the natural No. 1. It might just be that simple: The more people talk about Trump and Haley, the more Haley is seen as his likely successor.

I think options 1 and 2 are by far the most likely. But I also think there’s a third option that is a bit more out there, and yet still plausible enough that I'm surprised more people aren't talking about it: Haley is gunning for vice president.

Bear with me for a moment.

On the one hand, Trump prioritizes loyalty over everything else, and Haley publically and directly criticizing him makes me think he'd never tap her as vice president and that their personal relationship could very well be over. Haley's attacks are getting much more pointed (they are the kinds of attacks all Republican nominees should have been levying against Trump the whole time) and at some point there may be no turning back.

On the other hand, though, imagine being in Trump’s position. Imagine polling terribly with women, suburbanites, moderates, independents, and never-Trump Republicans. Imagine getting the chance to give people the sense that if something happened to you the country would be in stable, experienced hands. Imagine needing to band together MAGA supporters and centrists to have any chance of winning a general election. Who would make the most sense as a vice president? Probably the person picking up all those voters you don't have.

And consider the optics: Haley spends 6 months trashing Trump and warning about what a threat he is, then ultimately decides to run on his ticket. It'd look bad for her, sure, but it'd look great for him.

Do I think this is likely? Not really. In fact, it is equally — if not more — plausible that Haley is staying in the race because she genuinely thinks Trump is a threat and wouldn’t mind Biden winning again this year, especially if she could run against his legacy in 2028. But I do think a run for VP is still possible, and I think it’d be a brilliant move for Trump if he could stomach it. Remember, this is the same guy who picked Mike Pence as his vice president in 2016. 

Whatever the real reason is for Haley staying in it, the fact remains that this primary is over and it has been over. The only drama left on the Republican side is figuring out Haley’s motivations. 

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Your questions, answered.

Q: You and everyone else seem to have totally ignored the documentation and testimony of Tony Bobulinski on the first hand evidence of the corruption of the Bidens including Joe. His info and documents are far more damning than this Russian guy but that seems to be conveniently ignored. After several reviews of your posts I do not think you are unbiased.

— Anonymous from Salinas, California

Tangle: I certainly haven’t ignored it. There’s just nothing new in Bobulinski’s testimony, and he’s not exactly been a stellar witness in the case against Joe Biden.

Tony Bobulinski is a former business associate of Hunter Biden who recently testified to the House Oversight Committee about Joe Biden’s involvement in Hunter Biden’s alleged influence peddling. Bobulinski testified that Joe Biden was the “brand” sold by Hunter Biden, enabled foreign dealings, and received financial benefits from them. His testimony was at-times combative, but it ultimately didn’t give us anything new or provide any evidence that Joe Biden was directly involved.

From what I can tell, Hunter Biden was personally profiting on his father’s name; it’s hard to deny that. What’s harder to prove (and what neither Bobulisnki nor anyone else has so far) is that Joe Biden was personally involved in Hunter’s actions. Sure, Hunter was selling his father as a brand. But we don’t have any real evidence Joe was enabling Hunter’s efforts. Much of the focus has been on the line “10 held for H [Hunter] for the big guy”, which is nowhere near as meaningful as Biden’s critics think it is; it’s very easy to read that as Hunter being compensated for his promise of access, not for the access itself (which, again, hasn’t been proven).

Then there are his other issues. Bobulinski and his lawyers have been consistently playing the victim card for the pushback his testimony has gotten from Democrats, and he recently made headlines for denying a claim by former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson that he received an envelope from former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at a rally, despite a picture Hutchinson took to prove it.

To be honest, I don’t really care too much about that — what I care about is where Bobulinski’s evidence is. As I’ve said before: There is some damning stuff on the Hunter laptop — damning for Hunter, but nothing conclusive for Joe. But Republicans also insisted the FD-1023 form and their confidential source were at the heart of their impeachment inquiry — they said that, not me. They believed that was more valuable than Bobulinski’s testimony, not me. If Joe Biden financially benefited from Hunter’s business dealings, then that’s something we should all want to know about. But the further this inquiry goes without real evidence to prove that, the less testimony like Bobulinski’s matters.

One last thing: Everyone’s biased, including me. And including you. That means sometimes I miss things because of that bias, but it also means that sometimes you, the reader, will focus on certain things because of your biases too. I think that’s worth remembering.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Steven Kramer, a veteran Democratic political consultant advising Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) in his primary run against President Biden, admitted to being behind a series of robocalls in New Hampshire that imitated Biden's voice and told voters to stay home during the primary. “Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday,” the fake Biden voice said in the calls. In an interview with NBC, Kramer said he hired an out-of-work New Orleans magician to help make the fake robocall in order to raise awareness about the dangers of AI in politics, comparing himself to Paul Revere. Around the time the calls went out, Phillips's campaign paid Kramer $250,000. Both Kramer and Phillips insist that Kramer acted independently, and the Phillips campaign has condemned the calls. Kramer has been subpoenaed by the FCC. NBC News has the story.


  • 20.3%. Donald Trump’s margin of victory over Nikki Haley, the next closest finisher, in the 2024 South Carolina Republican Primary.
  • 10.0%. Donald Trump’s margin of victory over Marco Rubio, the next closest finisher, in the 2016 South Carolina Republican Primary.
  • 23.3%. Donald Trump’s projected margin of victory over Nikki Haley in South Carolina.
  • 3.0. The difference between Donald Trump’s projected margin of victory over Nikki Haley in South Carolina and his actual margin of victory
  • 8.1. The difference between Donald Trump’s projected margin of victory over Nikki Haley in New Hampshire and his actual margin of victory.
  • $30.5 million. The amount of cash on hand the Trump campaign has, according to Politico.
  • $56 million. The amount of cash on hand the Biden campaign has, according to Politico.
  • $92.6 million. The amount of cash on hand the Trump campaign had at this time in 2020, according to Politico.

The extras.

Yesterday’s poll: The majority of the 841 Tangle readers who responded to our poll said the Alabama Supreme Court’s IVF decision was flawed and the impacts would be mostly negative. “Given the politics of the state of Alabama, the decision is not surprising, but it is more of the government inserting itself into private, personal decisions and freedoms that should belong to citizens and their doctors,” one respondent said.

What do you think the South Carolina Republican Primary results tell us about Donald Trump’s presidential chances? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Good news feels good to read, but it’s probably good for you, too. Seeking out and reading good news has the benefit of combating negativity bias, reducing anxiety, keeping you engaged with relevant issues, building empathy, and even improving heart health. A 2018 study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people with a positive outlook are more inclined to lead a healthier lifestyle, leading to cardiovascular benefits. Not only that, but good news seems to be catching on. Good Good Good has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.