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April 22, 2024
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‘I refuse to quit’: Nikki Haley vows to stay in the presidential race after South Carolina

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made clear Tuesday in an address on the state of the GOP presidential primary that she’s not going to drop out soon even as she significantly trails former President Donald Trump in the polls.

“Some of you — perhaps a few of you in the media — came here today to see if I’m dropping out of the race,” she said. “Well, I’m not. Far from it.”

Haley said “we all know where” calls for her to drop out are coming from, pointing to “the political elite, the party bosses” and “cheerleaders in the commentator world.”

“The argument is familiar,” she said. “They say … that my path to victory is slim. They point to the primary polls and say I’m only delaying the inevitable. Why keep fighting when the battle was apparently over after Iowa?”

Speaking at her alma mater, Clemson University, Haley ripped into the former president, calling him a “disaster” for the GOP, “more unstable and unhinged” than when he first ran, criticizing other Republicans for being “too afraid to say it out loud.”

“Of course, many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump privately dread him,” she said. “They know what a disaster he’s been and will continue to be for our party.”

“Well, I’m not afraid to say the hard truths out loud,” she added. “I feel no need to kiss the ring. And I have no fear of Trump’s retribution. I’m not looking for anything from him.”

Haley’s speech came as recent surveys of the Palmetto State show her down by more than 20 points against Trump. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Tuesday showed Haley trailing Trump by 28 points, while a Winthrop University survey showed her trailing by 36 points. Adding to concerns are upcoming primary states looking as if they could produce similar results, with Trump set up to win a massive delegate haul on Super Tuesday next month.

In a memo written by top Trump campaign aides Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles on Tuesday ahead of Haley’s speech, the Trump team argued that under the most conservative estimate they believe Trump will secure enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination by March 19. But they said a more likely date was March 12 — just three weeks away.

LaCivita and Wiles said the campaign’s next steps are to acknowledge Haley “is irrelevant and not newsworthy — and unworthy of said attention,” link the Republican National Committee with Trump’s campaign, fully coordinate with the other GOP campaign committees, begin convention planning and launch the general election campaign.

But Haley, as she has argued on the trail in recent weeks, said Trump is simply not a viable general election candidate to face off with President Joe Biden, regardless of what current polling says. (A number of polls show Trump leading Biden in key swing states.)

She’s pointed to the litany of court cases Trump is dealing with as he faces criminal prosecution in four separate jurisdictions over charges tied to his effort to overturn the election, handling of classified documents and hush payments to women. What’s more, he is facing more than $400 million in judgments against him and his business from two civil cases.

And she pointed to Trump’s loss to Biden in 2020, as well as Republicans having lost key race after key race over the last three election cycles, saying Democrats “don’t even try to conceal their glee at the prospect of running against Trump.”

“That’s why I refuse to quit,” Haley said, pointing to supporters who are pushing her to stay in. “South Carolina will vote on Saturday. But on Sunday, I’ll still be running for president. I’m not going anywhere.”

Haley said voters “have a right to have their voices heard” and “deserve a real choice, not a Soviet-style election where there’s only one candidate and he gets 99% of the vote.”

“We don’t anoint kings in this country,” she said. “We have elections. And Donald Trump, of all people, should know we don’t rig elections.”

Haley pointed to her long-running criticism that both Trump and Biden — 77- and 81-years-old, respectively — are too old to serve.

“Trump and Biden are two old men who are only getting older,” she said. “Nearly 60% of Americans say Trump and Biden are both too old to be president — because they are.” 

Choking up at one point, Haley fought through tears talking about her husband Michael’s military deployment overseas. Trump recently questioned the state of her marriage at a South Carolina rally, asking: “What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone! He knew. He knew.”

“As I prepare for what lies ahead, Michael is at the front of my mind,” she said. “I wish Michael was here today, and I wish our children and I could see him tonight. But we can’t. He’s serving on the other side of the world, where conflict is the norm.”

“Michael is fighting for the country he loves,” she continued. “So are all his brothers- and sisters-in-arms, wherever they’re stationed in our dangerous world. They have made their stand because America is worth fighting and even dying for. Now I will continue to make my stand, because America is worth living for.”

Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, also sought to push back on the idea that she is a “Never Trump” candidate, saying her “purpose has never been to stop Trump at all costs.”

“Like most Americans, I have a handful of serious concerns about the former president,” she said. “But I have countless serious concerns about the current president.” 

She denied that she was running to be Trump’s vice president or to better position herself for a future presidential run.

“Dropping out would be the easy route. I’ve never taken the easy route. I’ve been the underdog in every race I’ve ever run,” she said, adding, “If I was running for a bogus reason, I would have dropped out a long time ago. The rest of the fellas already did that. They have their own plans. I don’t judge them. But I’m still here. I’m fighting for what I know is right.” 

Allan Smith

Allan Smith is a political reporter for NBC News.

Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon is a senior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Florida.

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