Nikki Haley Spent Months Touting Her Record As Governor. It’s Not Helping Her On Primary Day

The White House from Washington, DC / Public domain

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — After months on the campaign trail touting her record as the Palmetto State’s governor, Nikki Haley’s home state roots don’t appear to be helping her as South Carolinians take to the Republican primary polls on Saturday.

Former President Donald Trump is currently leading Haley in South Carolina primary polls by double digits, and has shored up a majority of support from the state’s top Republicans. While Haley has attempted to remind her former constituents of her executive achievements, South Carolinians who spoke with the Daily Caller News Foundation largely cited various other reasons that motivated their vote.

“I think she had a good record, but I think what she’s doing right now, in posturing like she is … I think it’s a useless cause, wasted resources. All those funds could be going toward the general election, and I think she just needs to show a little class and suspend her campaign, and let’s get on to beating [President Joe] Biden,” Tony Burks of Columbia, a 74-year-old retired business owner, told the DCNF. “[Trump] did a hell of a job, and he’s about the only person that I know of that can get all this mess straightened out, and we got a lot of mess.”

Burks, a Republican who supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, told the DCNF that immigration and inflation are the leading factors driving his vote for the former president.

John Newton, a 67-year-old Army veteran who also lives in Columbia, told the DCNF he’s supporting Trump over Haley because of his record in the White House. The Republican, who wasn’t residing in the state when Haley served as governor from 2011 to 2017, listed the economy, border security, crime, “wokeness in our educational system” and reeling in green energy policies as his top concerns.

“I heard she did okay, but in my mind, Trump’s proven. His policies worked,” Newton said. “You may not like some of his — I don’t like a lot of his character flaws either. But who’s perfect? He’s strong. He knows. His stuff worked. We were a lot better. You know, that’s the question you ought to be asking people. Are you better off today than you were four years ago? No.”

A CBS News/YouGov poll released on Feb. 12 found that a majority of South Carolinians weren’t considering Haley’s home state roots ahead of the primary. Only 20% of the state’s likely GOP primary voters said that the former governor being from South Carolina makes them more likely to cast a ballot in her favor, and 89% were more concerned about national issues rather than local ones.

Haley emphasized her record as governor to a crowd of South Carolinians on Thursday evening in Myrtle Beach, including bolstering the manufacturing industry, cutting taxes, lowering unemployment, cracking down on illegal immigration and implementing voter ID. The former governor was handily elected twice after she served in the state legislature for three terms.

While many of the Trump supporters who spoke with the DCNF did not approve of Haley’s job as governor, they believe the former president is the right person for the job, regardless.

Cindy Lee, a semi-retired Lancaster resident who works at Flopeye Diner, is supporting Trump in the primary. The Republican told the DCNF that the cost of living is her main issue heading into the election.

“I’ve been on disability for 24 years, and I’m having to do this to supplement — because it’s just not enough,” Lee said.

While Lee believes Haley was a good governor, she was critical over her leaving to serve in the Trump administration in 2017 as U.N. Ambassador before her term was over.

“Because that says, especially for the younger generation, that says, ‘okay, well if we don’t like what we’re doing right now, in a year or so we can quit and do something different,’” Lee told the DCNF. “It’s never the follow through, and that’s the part I don’t like is the follow through. Call me old fashioned or whatever, but I was raised if you start something, you see it to the end.”

Lawrence Phillips, a retired fence worker from Rock Hill, told the DCNF that “there’s no one better” than Trump and was critical of Haley’s state record when she raised the gas tax.

“She don’t care about the damn people. She thought it was wrong South Carolina gettin’ gas 40 cents cheaper a gallon than other people? No, I thought it was a blessing, not a curse. She gonna go change it? Nikki Haley can go to hell,” Phillips told the DCNF.

Kristen Hanrath of Lake Wylie said that she hardly remembers Haley’s governorship and told the DCNF “she didn’t make an impact.” The 42-year-old interior paint business owner is a longtime Trump supporter.

“He cares about us, doesn’t need to do what he’s doing at all, should be retired, but he’s fighting for us,” Hanrath said. “The court cases and everything is going to expose who these people really are, and he’s literally draining the swamp trying to make America a better place.”

Another Trump supporter, Christina Difiore, a 48-year-old chauffeur of Rock Hill, did not support Haley when she was governor and told the DCNF “she made bad decisions for South Carolinians.” The independent, who considers herself “very conservative,” is most concerned about immigration, human trafficking and the economy.

“He knows how to run a country, he knows how to put people in their place, and he doesn’t take nothing from nobody,” Difiore said

Haley voters were largely more supportive of the former governor’s tenure, but admitted their decision to cast a ballot for her was more of a protest vote against Trump.

Dayna Cousins, an independent voter in her early 50s who supported Biden in 2020, believes Haley was an “excellent” governor. The human resource manager who lives in Columbia told the DCNF she is supporting Haley in the primary to “preserve our democracy.”

“Honestly, it’s a protest vote. I just really don’t want to see another four years with Donald Trump in the White House,” Cousins said. “I thought Nikki Haley was an excellent governor for our state. I’m more of a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, so I weigh my voting based on what’s best for our community at large. And by that I mean our American community as well as the South Carolina community.”

South Carolina doesn’t register its voters by party affiliation, allowing any registered voter to participate in the primary of their choice. The Democratic primary took place on Feb. 3, where Biden won overwhelmingly with 96.2% support.

Paul Morris, a moderate who voted for Biden in the last election, told the DCNF he chose to cast a ballot in the Republican primary instead because he felt his vote had more of an impact.

“I thought she did alright,” the 40-year-old firefighter from Columbia told the DCNF of Haley’s governorship. “I thought she was a traditional conservative, and had traditional conservative principles, which in [these] times is admirable, and I think it’s a good leadership style, good strong policies, but not too radical. I wouldn’t say she was relatively moderate, but I guess in these days she was relatively moderate, and I like that.”

Conversely, Democratic engineer Randy Cottrell of Columbia, who voted for Haley on Saturday, was critical of the former governor’s tenure.

“I like Nikki Haley, she was a nice person, but I’m not a libertarian,” Cottrell told the DCNF. “Biggest beef I got against Nikki Haley [sic] is that when gas prices were less than $2 a gallon, we should have fixed our roads 20 years ago, not waited until now to get this money from Biden to fix the roads. These roads should have already been under construction, so I’m mad about that. They had a chance to really do something really good, and they didn’t do it.”

The 72-year-old Democrat intended on voting for Biden two weeks ago, but said he couldn’t make it to the polls in time. Cottrell — whose top issues are abortion, voting rights and preserving democracy — told the DCNF that he’s supporting Haley in the GOP primary “as a way to vote against Donald Trump.”

The former governor notched third place in the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15, and came in second next to Trump in the New Hampshire primary a week later. Haley didn’t compete for delegates in Nevada, and lost to the “None of These Candidates” option in the Feb. 6 primary, instead.

Haley’s campaign did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Mary Lou Masters on February 24, 2024


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