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


Why is Haley still running?

Haley is the last one standing among major candidates competing with Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. With the odds so devastatingly stacked against her, what exactly is Haley trying to do by continuing her campaign and risking getting trounced in her home state?

As I wrote on the site last week, there are certain benefits to presidential runs even when it seems clear a candidate isn't going to become the nominee. One such benefit is raising a candidate's profile in the public eye, something Haley has definitely reaped throughout the primary. When she officially launched her campaign last February, the share of Americans who had either a favorable or unfavorable opinion on her (a decent proxy for a candidate's name recognition) hovered around 55-60 percent. Lately, that number is closer to 75 percent:

It could be that Haley is continuing her campaign to tee up a 2028 bid. The GOP tends to favor also-rans when choosing a nominee in years when there isn't an incumbent running: From 1980 through 2020, there was only one year (2000) when the Republican nominee wasn't either an incumbent or someone who had run previously (if you count Trump's third-party run for president in 2000). And as Trump's only major challenger still in the race, she's still pulling in media and public attention, as well as a decent supply of donations.

Haley has become increasingly critical of Trump. Despite previously serving in his administration, Haley says Trump is no longer "the right president." She's dragged him for his legal woes and drawn attention to his age. Positioning herself in this way could serve future political ambitions by setting her up as the new face of the Reagan wing of the GOP.

Some of the other benefits of a continued run are less likely to explain Haley's tenacity. Given her conservative record as governor, she's not exactly trying to push Trump or the party to the center (despite garnering some support among moderate and independent voters). And given Trump's hardline on loyalty, it's unlikely she'd be able to parlay this campaign into another job in a second Trump administration. Besides, she says she's not interested anyway, telling the “Today” show recently: "I don't want anything. I don't want [to be] vice president."

And of course, we shouldn't write off the potential that Haley still thinks there's a path for her to win. Trump's continued legal disputes remain an unknown factor, and Haley could be hoping that by simply hanging on long enough, she could become the next best option should Trump, for one reason or another, no longer be a viable nominee.

—Kaleigh Rogers, 538