At first glance, the drowsiness is noticeable. Here’s the long-awaited two-person race for the GOP nomination, in which traditional Republicans finally find their only alternative to Trump. And it turns out she’s a woman whose defining moment will take place in her home state. It seems like a great story.

What’s more, it would ever have been difficult to conceive of a more favorable turn of events than the one that has fallen into Haley’s lap in recent weeks.

In one of his few trips to South Carolina before Saturday’s primary, Trump used the same rally to wonder aloud where Haley’s husband was in combat and invite Russia to invade a NATO ally that wasn’t spending enough in defense. The former president quickly returned to the golf course, but soon afterward Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken domestic critic died in an Arctic prison, a stark reminder of who the man in the Kremlin Trump boasts he gets along with is.

Haley sought to capitalize on the turn of events (it’s not every day an opponent mocks a military family for their service and invites an enemy to invade America’s allies), but Trump’s outburst appears to have impacted her standing. among Republicans as his outbursts have for nearly nine years. years. That is, only in the margins.

And that’s the main reason this race in South Carolina looks so disappointing. In this Republican race, demographics are destiny, to use a borrowed phrase.

This is less a primary election than a modern general election in which the opposing sides are as predictable as they are calcified. Haley does better with more educated and wealthier Republicans, as well as independents and Democrats eager to block Trump’s return, while the former president has majority support thanks to his control over the working-class base that now dominates the republican coalition.

External events, blunders, home state advantage and differences on issues matter little. Cold, immutable mathematics is the determining factor, not old standbys. And there are fewer college-educated and unaffiliated voters in South Carolina than in New Hampshire, so the pool available to Haley is small.

He has tried to overcome this challenge by broadening the electorate, appealing directly to voters in the political center who are not enthusiastic about Trump and Biden. “We either have a senile candidate or a crazy one for president,” said Sandy Claeys, a retiree who attended Haley’s rally in Sumter and said she voted for Trump in 2020 but concluded that “he’s crazy.”

In addition to addressing non-Republicans via text message, Haley has added a line to her speech explicitly aimed at general election voters saying in the fall “you have a choice,” but in the primaries “you you make your choice.”

Talking to South Carolinians, though, there’s an obvious reason there’s so little drama here: You already know the ending.

“You know why, you know why!” said Bob Ziembicki when I pressed him to explain how South Carolina managed to hold a boring primary.

Originally from, as he put it, “the Bronx, baby,” Ziembicki runs the Republican Club in the sprawling Sun City community in Fort Mill, not far from the Charlotte border. He warmly introduced Haley at her rally there Sunday night. However, after his bus left, Ziembicki tried to convince me to accept a leftover ice cream sandwich and got to the heart of the matter.

“It’s because 75 percent are for Trump, that’s the only explanation,” he said. He was talking about his view of the vote split in Sun City, which is full of northern retirees who fled the cold weather and high taxes, and are happy to rationalize Trump’s behavior because they all knew that loudmouth guy in the old neighborhood.

The race will be more competitive throughout the state. However, even Haley stalwarts like Katon Dawson, former state Republican Party chairwoman, acknowledge that her support group ranges from 30 to 40 years old.

Invoking Bob Dole’s memorable line about Bill Clinton’s transgressions in 1996, Dawson said, “Where’s the outrage?” before naturally answering his own question. “Well, there wasn’t any.”

For party stalwarts like Dawson, it wasn’t supposed to be this way, at least not a year ago, when the race began and the party seemed open to overtaking Trump.

Of course, that was when some Republicans were still indulging in the fantasy that elected Republican leaders would rally around an alternative to Trump and that non-Trump candidates themselves might even coordinate to thwart the former president. That didn’t happen.
For all their mutual enmity in recent months, Ron DeSantis and Haley are strikingly similar in their failures. Both made little effort to develop relationships, either with the media or with their fellow Republicans. Neither man was widely accessible to the press until his fate was likely sealed, and neither had much goodwill with other Republican lawmakers. So when Haley, as recently as this month, sought endorsements from some of the party’s most prominent figures, it was too late. Those horrified by Trump stayed silent and everyone else in the party relented and backed the front-runner.

To be fair to Haley, it’s eminently reasonable to wonder whether a twice-elected Southern governor turned United Nations ambassador would have been similarly fired and ignored by, well, most top Republican officials, except the New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. .

Furthermore, it is notable the degree to which the media collectively distanced itself from the Republican race after New Hampshire, as if it had lost by 40 points instead of 11. I recognize Trump’s structural advantage and have written about it. And when nearly every high-ranking elected Republican bows to Trump, well, that can wear down the suspense.

However, the decision to stop covering the campaign as an actual race may be self-reinforcing, and seeing only network cameras at her rallies earlier this week was some sympathy for Haley.

Haley, however, has taken few risks. Where was the appeal for New Hampshire independents and Democrats? She couldn’t take advantage of DeSantis’ dropout the weekend before the primary there. Instead, she talked about how all “the guys” had fallen by the wayside and that was that.

Would that have changed the course of the campaign? Not completely. She would have faced the same demographic challenges today. However, losing in New Hampshire by a few fewer points, say seven instead of 11, may have at least helped her keep more media attention in South Carolina.

And speaking of that, where is the imagination? Her approach to prevailing over a candidate who spreads over the media landscape like kudzu has been to organize a bus tour of South Carolina and then, when she risked being ignored entirely, provoke a major speech in which the only news It was not having news. not at all: she stayed in the race.

I get it, it’s hard to stage a knife fight in a phone booth, as the old South Carolina racing cliché goes, when you’re the only one in the phone booth. So leave the state and show up near Mar-a-Lago or the 19th hole of the links where Trump is located. Or, why not, hold a press conference outside the courthouse where he was that day.

And on the topic of taking risks, why not ask John Kelly, Marine Corps general and Trump’s former chief of staff, to meet with you near Parris Island to talk about the sacrifices of military families? Could Kelly make it clearer that Trump disgusts her?

It may all seem gimmicky or give off an air of desperation à la Ted Cruz’s political fantasy league choice of Carly Fiorina as his running mate shortly before the crucial Indiana primary in 2016. But then again, what did Haley have to lose?

In his “I’ll stay home” speech earlier this week, he said his “own political future is no cause for concern.” Well, she hasn’t acted like that.

For all Haley’s talk of hard truths, a staple of her speech, what she hasn’t accepted is that Trump represents the bright line of our times. It’s a time to know which side you’re on. And, as she made clear in her comments, he doesn’t want to choose one.

Instead, the history we have all lived is being contorted and blurred to argue that Trump has changed. It’s a way to rationalize their own capitulation to him in 2016 and accommodate party rank-and-file who may be convinced that the person who called for a Muslim ban, mocked Mitt Romney for walking like a penguin, and belittled the war on John McCain. The Record and Gold Star families were a bigger person when he first ran for president.

I know why she does it: She doesn’t want to be seen as Liz Cheney, wearing the blue shirt and saying Trump is unfit for office. Haley wants to preserve her viability among Republicans, which is why she made it clear again in that speech that she is not a Never Trumper.

There are many others like Haley. In fact, there’s a word for them in the Trump era: homeless. Or to use a more modern phrase: the politically evicted.

Sprinkled throughout his rallies are those who say they will reluctantly vote for Trump as their candidate this fall, those who won’t participate, and some, including the guy who yelled “lock him up” about Trump at Haley’s rally in Camden, who back Biden.

It is not a small coalition. Depending on the state, Haley supporters make up a third or more of the party. But that’s not enough to earn a nomination.

The question now is to what extent these primaries were a matter of Trump being sui generis, a celebrity and strongman the likes of which the country has never seen, or whether the party and politics in general have changed irrevocably.

I wouldn’t expect a political Martin Luther to show up on that Republican Party’s doorstep anytime soon. There has to be a market for a reform.

Losing the presidency once again may create the beginning of one, but let’s remember how badly the Democrats had to lose in three consecutive elections in the 1980s before Bill Clinton pushed them toward the center. In a polarized era, and with a candidate who will never admit defeat anyway, such an overwhelming rejection is not in sight. And, knowing Trump, does anyone think he would immediately rule out running again in 2028?

So we move on, carried along by the currents, even if millions of voters do not want to be dragged endlessly into the past.

In Camden, the heart of South Carolina horse country, the crowd at Haley’s rally seemed up to the task. Arriving in a Barbour coat and bow tie were retired Maj. Gen. Julian Burns, a West Pointer, and his wife, Ruth Ann, who was the first female company commander at Texas A&M and had the Aggie ring to prove it.

The retired general was quick to explain why he liked Haley. “Integrity, youth, she understands the international piece,” he said.

But the Burns couldn’t so easily understand why the former president faces no sanctions for his conduct.

Ruth Ann ventured that party leaders are “afraid of Trump.”

Julian changed the subject to Biden’s weaknesses before grouping them with Trump’s behavior to speak on behalf of his fellow homeless people.

“I can’t believe what’s happening,” he said.

By Sam