South Carolina primary 2024: Trump projected to win, Haley vows to stay in the race

What can we take away from Trump's big Palmetto State victory?

Former President Donald Trump has won the South Carolina Republican primary, ABC News projects. It was a swift and embarrassing defeat for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who rose to political prominence as South Carolina’s governor. Nevertheless, in her concession speech, Haley vowed to continue her campaign into Super Tuesday on March 5.

Throughout the evening, 538 reporters, analysts and contributors broke down the results as they came in with live updates, analysis and commentary. Read our full live blog below.

That's a wrap!

As of 9:20 p.m., 70 percent of the expected vote is reporting in South Carolina, and Trump is leading Haley by 20 points. It’s a decisive victory for the former president, as expected, though a somewhat smaller margin than his average lead in the polls heading into today (around 28 points).

Haley’s margin of defeat, though, looks even larger when it comes to delegates: Under South Carolina’s delegate allocation system, over half the state’s 50 delegates are awarded to the statewide winner, while the rest are awarded by congressional district. It looks like the maximum delegates Haley could walk away with in her home state tonight is three, if she holds onto her lead in the 1st District.

Despite this, Haley proclaimed in her speech that tonight’s result demonstrated her home state’s frustration with the country’s direction and reiterated her promise to stay in the race.

And on that note ... We hope to see you back here for our Super Tuesday live blog on March 5! We're gearing up for an eventful night tracking not only the presidential race in 15 states (and one territory) but a slew of down-ballot primaries in Senate, House and gubernatorial races as well.

—Tia Yang, 538

Final thought: If Biden was winning only 60 percent, people would be freaking out

I have become a little obsessed tonight about what we should be expecting Trump to hit in this primary a priori. That is, given Trump is assumed to be the eventual party nominee and almost universally liked in the GOP, should he be winning more than 60 percent in South Carolina?

I already gave my case for answering "no" to that question: Strictly speaking Trump is dominating the delegate count and running ahead of his 2016 vote share in most counties with complete counts this primary cycle. And if you consider that Haley gets a home-state advantage in South Carolina tonight, Trump's adjusted vote share is close to 65 or 70 percent; our delegate benchmarks think Trump should have won 68 percent of the vote based on the demographics of the state alone. That's not the highest number, but it's not the lowest right? Would 65 percent be "good" for Trump? 75 percent? 80?

One counterargument to this centers around how the media has covered historical performances by incumbent presidential candidates. Journalist Jill Lawrence points out that in 1992, Patrick Buchanan challenged incumbent President George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination and won 40 percent in the New Hampshire primary, holding Bush to 58 percent of the vote. That's an almost identical split to the results from tonight. The New York Times journalist Robin Toner wrote up the results with the headline "BUSH JARRED IN FIRST PRIMARY" and said the result "amounted to a roar of anger" from Republican primary voters.

If Trump was a true incumbent, I imagine the news media would use a similar headline to describe tonight's results in South Carolina. Perhaps our expectations for him are too low, or we're too focused on the broader state of play? Haley said in her concession speech tonight that she will stay in the race indefinitely, so I guess we'll get more data on Super Tuesday — only 10 days from now. The primary lives on!

—G. Elliott Morris, 538

Final thought: Looking to the suburbs

There are significant differences between primaries and general elections. (If you’re reading this live blog, I’d bet Nathaniel’s next paycheck you already know that.) But I don’t think we should lose sight of where specifically Trump is struggling in South Carolina and in the other early states: metro areas and the suburbs. Tonight, the three counties Haley won happen to be the three counties with the highest educational attainment in the state. We know that one of the primary engines of Democratic success in every cycle since 2016, really, has been improved fortunes among suburban and educated voters. Most Haley voters will end up voting for Trump, yes, but I don’t think it’s insignificant that even as he flexes control over the GOP for eight years running, his problems in the suburbs are still as evident as ever.

—Jacob Rubashkin, Inside Elections

Final thought: Haley could actually win delegates tonight

We don't have final results by congressional district (much less overall), but as we can see from a map of the results, Haley is doing better along the coast near Charleston than in much of the rest of South Carolina. That may signal that Haley could carry the 1st Congressional District once all is said and done to win three delegates. That may not seem like much, but Trump swept South Carolina's delegates in 2016, and if Haley is sticking around, winning any delegates has to be part of her strategy to carry on.

Half of the 1st District's population is in Charleston and Beaufort counties, according to Daily Kos Elections — both of which Haley currently lead in. Another 49 percent of the district lies in Berkeley and Dorchester counties, both of which Trump holds an edge in (the remaining 1 percent is in Colleton and Jasper counties). Charleston and Dorchester are both split between the 1st and 6th, so we can't figure out the district-level result based purely on the county-level numbers. So we'll have to see. But Haley's showing in the 1st might be her one bright spot tonight.

—Geoffrey Skelley, 538

Is Trump running as an incumbent president?

After Trump's New Hampshire primary victory, political commentators noted that he made history as a modern-era non-incumbent winning both major early contests – Iowa and New Hampshire. But while it's obviously true that he's not the sitting president, is it really fair to call Trump a non-incumbent when it comes to the dynamics of the primary race?

In some senses, Trump has campaigned like an incumbent. He refused to participate in any of the primary debates. He uses some of the visual trappings of the presidency, like a modified version of the presidential seal, in public appearances. And he acts like the leader of his party. After his allies played a role in pressuring Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to step down, Trump is reportedly looking into replacing her with someone more loyal to him — possibly even his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump. As Trump's preferences and personal brand increasingly dominate the party, and he continues to barrel toward winning the nomination, his influence over the GOP seems very much like what an incumbent president might expect to wield.

But thinking of him this way raises very different expectations for the nomination contest. As a candidate in an open race, Trump has done very well against a field of highly qualified opponents. But unlike most incumbents, he's attracted a lot of challengers. Almost half of Iowa caucusgoers chose someone else, and Trump won by 11 percentage points in New Hampshire. These results would be concerning for an incumbent president. (Imagine the narratives we'd see if Biden was facing a field of strong primary competitors who siphoned off more than a third of the vote in early states.) Based on those numbers alone, it may look like Trump's challengers managed to do just well enough to suggest that if anti-Trump forces in the GOP could just coordinate, they might have been able to compete with him. But of course, tonight could put a fine point on the reality that that opportunity has passed and, incumbent or not, Trump is still in the driver's seat of the GOP.

—Julia Azari, 538 contributor