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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. president Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C. on Feb. 24.Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press

It’s over. But it’s not finished.

Donald Trump and Nikki Haley headed to South Carolina this month in the hope of resolving any question about the fight for the Republican presidential nomination.

On one level, that happened. With a resounding win in the Palmetto State’s primary Saturday, Mr. Trump continued his relentless drive toward winning the GOP’s most precious crown.

And yet while some questions seemed to be resolved, one vital one remains.

Is Mr. Trump a formidable force and all but the inevitable nominee? Yes. Will Ms. Haley prevail at the Milwaukee gathering where the Republicans will confer their nomination? Almost certainly not.

But is Mr. Trump’s triumph, sweeping six in 10 voters in Ms. Haley’s home state, as much a statement of his political weakness as it is a symbol of his strength? Perhaps.

That’s the most important “perhaps” in U.S. politics today.

That “perhaps” became not a whisper but a shout when Fox News, the U.S. outlet that Mr. Trump both courts and heeds, reported that 59 per cent of the Haley voters do not plan to vote for Mr. Trump in the general election. Though that potential Republican defection surely will shrink in coming months, it nonetheless represents a threat to Mr. Trump’s White House hopes.

Mr. Trump has won every contest this year, a remarkable political performance that has given him what George H.W. Bush in 1980 called the “Big Mo,” or momentum.

Though Mr. Trump has captured fewer than a tenth of the delegates required to win the nomination, there are few opportunities ahead for Ms. Haley to halt that momentum or even to assemble a credible passel of delegates.

In fact, the states and territories that vote in the next fortnight – those 21 contests on which Ms. Haley hangs her fast-fading hopes – very possibly will supply the remaining nine-tenths of the delegates Mr. Trump needs to capture his third consecutive Republican presidential nomination. No modern American political figure besides Franklin Delano Roosevelt has done that.

Ms. Haley’s candidacy increasingly is taking on the colour of a protest movement, a romantic, quixotic effort being conducted in defiance of history if not logic.

Here’s how Trump won in South Carolina - and what it could mean for his chances in November

In addition, never before has a presidential candidacy been conducted in the hope that a frontrunner will be convicted of a felony or on the possibility that a rival will be hospitalized by a stroke.

The Trump campaign had hoped to dispatch Ms. Haley from the race this weekend, perhaps after the polls closed Saturday. Now the woman who served the 45th president as ambassador to the United Nations is little more than an irritant, but an irritant who enrages him and a persistent critic the Trump team fears will injure their candidate’s prospects in November.

It is remarks, such as her comment in her concession speech that “nearly every day Trump drives people away,” that drive members of the Trump team batty. They are frustrated that Ms. Haley, who in her remarks Saturday night said it was her “duty” to provide an option other than Mr. Trump, seems to be channelling Margaret Thatcher, who in remarks to the British Conservative Party conference in 1980, said, “The lady’s not for turning.”

The difference is that Mrs. Thatcher was the prime minister, not the last-remaining challenger to a candidate with few if any obstacles to the nomination.

Though the big-money Koch group Americans For Prosperity Action said Sunday it will no longer provide Ms. Haley with funding, she has the money to continue her quest, with a total of US$15.6-million in new contributions flowing to her campaign and to a separate organization supporting her effort in the past month alone and with an additional US$1-million coming in since her defeat Saturday.

Her targets in coming weeks are states where the primaries are not restricted to registered Republicans.

In what may be her last hurrah for 2024, her focus will be on Michigan, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. Her prospects otherwise, and even in those states, are faint.

Ms. Haley has failed to prevail in the two states where her chances were greatest – New Hampshire, where Republicans are more moderate than they are in any of the states that will vote early next month, and South Carolina, where she twice won in statewide gubernatorial elections.

In a broader sense, enigmatic South Carolina behaved true to form in Saturday’s balloting.

From the start, South Carolina has cultivated its own character, separate and distinct from that of the colonies of the northeast – ”the only colonial society,” the University of South Carolina historian Walter Edgar wrote in his South Carolina: A History, “to produce a new cultural identity.” As a colony, it began its history apart from the rest of America and as a state it has remained that way.

There is a great irony at the heart of Ms. Haley’s decisive rejection Saturday in a state that twice between 1832 (when it sought unilaterally to nullify a national tariff) and 1860 (when it became the first Southern state to secede from the Union) asserted its rebellious independence.

As a female governor in a conservative Southern state, she upended the political calculus there and, stylistically if not politically, was an alien, disrupting force in the way the state operated. But now, her governorship seven years in the past, an even more disruptive force – one with a national following – was on the scene, and as a result she failed to win support from a political establishment whose allegiance she never fully won.

”Politics in South Carolina has a sad reputation as a blood sport,” Ms. Haley wrote in her 2012 memoir, Can’t is Not an Option, a title that Mr. Trump’s campaign thus far has been unable to nullify fully. The state she described on the late January night of the New Hampshire Primary as “my sweet state of South Carolina,” left its native daughter bowed and bloodied – but failed to stanch the questions that continue to linger around her opponent.

Editor’s note: (March 20, 2024): This article has been updated to remove incorrect information about the results of primaries in Ohio and Texas in 2016.

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