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Delegate Math and the Futility of Haley’s Challenge to Trump

Nikki Haley after voting Saturday.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If there had been any doubt about whether the Republican presidential primary was heading toward an early conclusion, it was put to rest Saturday night by the voters of South Carolina.

With nearly all the vote counted, Donald J. Trump defeated Nikki Haley, 60 percent to 39 percent.

It’s not a staggering landslide. In fact, Mr. Trump slightly underperformed the final polls, thanks to a vigorous turnout for Ms. Haley in Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas. Her strength may even be attributable to voters who intend to back President Biden in the general election, as anyone could vote in the South Carolina primary, regardless of party.

But this isn’t just any South Carolina primary: This is Ms. Haley’s home state. Even losing candidates have usually managed to win their home states. Ted Cruz and John Kasich did so against Mr. Trump in 2016. John McCain (2000), Howard Dean (2004), John Edwards (2004), Wesley Clark (2004), Newt Gingrich (2012) and others all pulled off home state wins. For many of these candidates, their home state win was their only win. On Saturday, Ms. Haley didn’t come close.

A decisive home-state loss says everything you need to know (and you probably knew already). It confirms that she trails Mr. Trump by a huge margin nationwide — the kind of margin that made a home state win impossible. It throws cold water on any notion that greater name recognition would overcome her deficit in the polls. And it deprived her of the last, best chance to claim even a hint of momentum ahead of Super Tuesday, when nearly half of the delegates to the Republican convention will be awarded.

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