After South Carolina, Trump’s March to the Nomination Quickens

After South Carolina, Trump’s March to the Nomination Quickens

The reality has been clear for weeks, since former President Donald J. Trump trounced his opponents across the frozen fields and icy highways of Iowa. But his overwhelming victory on Saturday in South Carolina, where he defeated Nikki Haley in her home state, makes it all but official.

The Republican nominating contest isn’t a competition. It’s a coronation.

The party primaries this winter represented the best chance for Republicans who were opposed to the former president to oust him from his dominant position in the G.O.P. The stakes were extraordinarily high: Many of his Republican opponents see Mr. Trump as, at best, unelectable and, at worst, a threat to the foundations of American democracy.

And yet, as the campaign has moved through the first nominating contests, the race has not revealed Mr. Trump’s weaknesses, but instead the enduring nature of his ironclad grip on the Republican Party. From the backrooms of Capitol Hill to the town hall meetings of New Hampshire to the courtrooms of New York City, Mr. Trump shows no sign of being shaken from his controlling position in the party — not in 2024, and not in the foreseeable future.

“I think the party will be done with Trump when Trump is done with the party,” said David Kochel, a longtime Republican strategist who is opposed to Mr. Trump. “That’s the long and short of it.”

Several of Mr. Trump’s primary rivals have folded and endorsed his candidacy, though others have backed Ms. Haley or withheld their support. He has conquered state parties and the Republican National Committee, installing loyalists in key posts, and collected the backing of vast numbers of Republican elected officials. And what once appeared to be extraordinary political liabilities — the 91 felony counts against him, his increasingly extreme rhetoric, his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — have only served to bolster his support among the Republican faithful.

With his victory on Saturday, Mr. Trump has swept all the early nominating contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, South Carolina — an unprecedented achievement in a contested primary race. He heads into Super Tuesday on March 5, when a third of all delegates to the G.O.P. convention will be awarded, with “maximum velocity,” said the Republican governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, who endorsed Mr. Trump over his predecessor, Ms. Haley.

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