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Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump in Clinton, Iowa, on Jan. 6, 2024 and US President Joe Biden in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Nov. 4, 2023.TANNEN MAURYBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

Nikki Haley has ended her presidential bid, clearing the way for Donald Trump’s march to the Republican nomination and setting up a general election rematch between him and Democratic President Joe Biden.

Speaking in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday morning, Ms. Haley refused to endorse Mr. Trump and reprised a central campaign argument that he is too divisive to win.

“It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him and I hope he does that,” she said. “At its best, politics is about bringing people into your cause, not turning them away. And our conservative cause badly needs more people.”

Quoting Margaret Thatcher, Ms. Haley advised supporters to “never just follow the crowd, always make up your own mind.”

Ms. Haley’s exit follows a shellacking in Super Tuesday primary voting a day earlier. Mr. Trump won commanding victories in California and Texas, the country’s two most populous states, and also took mid-size prizes such as North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Minnesota, Utah and Colorado. Ms. Haley prevailed only in small, liberal Vermont – a modest victory that nonetheless made her the first woman to win a Republican state presidential primary.

Mr. Trump is expected to formally clinch a majority of convention delegates, and thus the nomination, next week when Georgia and Washington state vote. The early conclusion to the primary season sets up one of the longest general election campaigns in history, stretching eight months until the Nov. 5 vote, between two historically unpopular candidates. Aged 81 and 77, respectively, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are also the two oldest election opponents.

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Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a news conference in Charleston, S.C., on March 6.Chris Carlson/The Associated Press

The former president’s primary victories so far have pointed to some potential weaknesses: a significant bloc of voters remained solidly opposed to him even as he drove more than a dozen competitors from the race. Ms. Haley took nearly a quarter of Tuesday’s votes. Exit polling on Tuesday showed a majority of her supporters do not believe Mr. Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Mr. Biden issued an appeal to her supporters to join him on Wednesday. “You don’t have to agree with me on everything to know MAGA extremism is a threat to this country,” he wrote on X, in response to a statement from Mr. Trump warning that anyone who donated to Ms. Haley would be “barred” from his “camp.”

Still, Mr. Trump’s support has remained solid despite his facing 91 criminal charges and accusations of authoritarianism over a platform that includes rounding up undocumented immigrants and threats to order the country’s legal system to take down his political opponents.

U.S. Supreme Court restores Trump to Colorado ballot, overturning lower court ban over Capitol attack

Ms. Haley, a polished former South Carolina governor who later served under Mr. Trump as United Nations ambassador, represented a last-ditch bid by Reaganite Republicans to take back their party. Her campaign was well-funded by major donors, including the Koch family network, and took off after strong debate performances last year.

In stump speeches she vowed U.S. backing for allies such as Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, drawing a contrast with Mr. Trump’s isolationism and admiration for autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. She also hammered her rival for driving up the national debt while in office.

The Generation X daughter of Indian immigrants, Ms. Haley represented diversity for a party still dominated by aging white men.

“I am tired of the chaos with Trump. Biden is way too old – he doesn’t know where he is half the time,” said Joanne Posulka, 70, a retired X-ray tech and Haley supporter in Simpsonville, S.C.

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Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a Super Tuesday watch party at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 5.SCOTT MCINTYRE/The New York Times News Service

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump nicknamed Ms. Haley “bird brain” and made fun of her for having a Punjabi first name, Nimrata. In a post on his Truth Social platform Wednesday, he crowed that “Nikki Haley got TROUNCED last night, in record setting fashion” and accused her supporters and donors of being “Radical Left Democrats.”

To many Republican voters, however, Ms. Haley simply didn’t matter much: They were determined to support Mr. Trump no matter his opponent.

“I don’t really have anything against her, but she’s no substitute for the real deal. If you can have the original article, why would you settle for anything less?” said Keith Muehlfeld, 72, a retired judge and Georgia resident. “I know a lot of people don’t like Trump’s style, but I’m not electing the godfather for my kids. I’m electing the president of the United States.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who once said Mr. Trump was to blame for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, endorsed him shortly after Ms. Haley’s Wednesday announcement. As Mr. Trump has consolidated control of the party, Ms. Haley and other critics have taken aim at legislators who signed onto his winning campaign despite previously disparaging him. In her final campaign speech, Ms. Haley said Congress was “filled with followers, not leaders.”

Mr. Biden, who faces no serious competitors in his party’s primaries, also notched easy victories across the board on Tuesday. In several states, however, significant minorities of Democratic voters marked their ballots “uncommitted” in protest of his support for Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. If such discontent pushes down turnout for him in key swing states, it could cost Mr. Biden the general election.

The vote will be the first presidential rematch since Adlai Stevenson’s 1956 tilt against Dwight Eisenhower. If Mr. Trump were to succeed, he would become only the second former president to return to win back the office, after Grover Cleveland in 1892.

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