Primary election campaign in the USA: Peace, Haley, pancakes

Primary election campaign in the USA: Peace, Haley, pancakes

The US Republican primary in South Carolina will decide whether Trump’s last real opponent will remain in the race. A visit to the base.

Trudy Walker (left) sounds like a Democrat but is campaigning for Nikki Haley Photo: Marina Klimchuk

CHARLESTON (SOUTH CAROLINA) taz | “Let’s welcome the next president of the United States, Nikki Haley!” Boom boom boom, “I love rock and roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby!” It’s 6:25 p.m., the last faint rays of light disappear into the dusk there. Nikki Haley walks majestically onto the stage in her turquoise wool coat.

“They call us South Carolina, Beast of the South East,” she screams into the microphone. The crowd goes wild, excited shouts echo through the darkness. Stickers, banners, flyers, thousands of mini-Nikkis. In the background, the flags of America shake so violently, as if they, too, were cheering. “Let’s do it!”, “God bless you!”, “Trump is Anti-Christ!”

A little girl with a colossal pink bow on her blonde hair weaves through the crowd, another sits on her father’s shoulders and holds up a pink poster that says “Women for Nikki.” A man who was just gossiping about Trump is now bellowing, “Nikki Nikki Nikki!” What follows is 33 minutes of flawlessness. Then handshakes, selfies, smiles for the press, fan vibes like at a Taylor Swift concert.

On this frosty February evening in Charleston, 1,200 people are swept away into a parallel reality that seems more unlikely with each passing day: one in which the next president of the United States is being celebrated up there on the stage. The next and potentially decisive primary election for the Republican presidential nomination will take place in the US state of South Carolina on February 24th.

Who are the Americans who still support this woman who, despite all predictions, does not want to give up the fight for the most important office in the world? What are they going to this rally for? Against what?

Right, young, female, of Indian descent

Haley says she wants to make America normal again. Could this be the beginning of a revolution with the stated goal of leading America out of polarization? Or is an election event like this an outlet from which one’s own despair can escape for a moment? Despair about everything that is weighing on the moderate Republican soul these months?

Maybe it’s a little of both. The only thing that is certain is that political content is not a priority here. Whoever is here wishes for: peace, joy, pancakes. A less nasty, less hateful America.

Haley brings a lot of what the Republican Party needs. She is right-wing (pro-low taxes, anti-abortion), young (52), her parents are from India, and she is a woman. She was governor of South Carolina for the second time when Trump made her U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 2017. If you believe the people here, she was a good governor and she was respected.

Everyone at the election event brings their own Nikki anecdote. But is that enough? Trump won the first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Haley also suffered an embarrassing defeat in Nevada last Tuesday: with 32 percent, she received fewer votes than the “none of these candidates” option, for which 61 percent voted. Trump’s name was not on the list. A so-called caucus followed on Thursday, which Trump won. Unlike the primary with Haley, the caucus was about delegate votes. And in her home state, Haley is far behind Trump in opinion polls.

“I don’t vote based on party, but based on people”

3:30 p.m., two and a half hours until the event begins. In the brick building of the “New Realm Brewing” brewery near Charleston, the waitresses serve the first beers. The first buffalo chicken wings are prepared in the kitchen and “Beer Food Live Music” is available outside. Twelve people have gathered outside, volunteer campaign workers, who are gossiping about Donald Trump in a semicircle. Then a chubby young man in an olive green sweater raises the microphone to his mouth and gives them instructions about the logistics of the evening.

Nikki, 82-year-old Rick believes, can bring the torn country back together

There is Trudy, 64 years old. Blonde hair, quiet voice, warm smile. She is wearing a dark blue “Nikki Haley for President” T-shirt. Trudy’s job is to lug heavy boxes full of T-shirts like this from the car to the stand. Suddenly she stops and says, visibly pleased about the acquaintance: “We can speak German. I studied in Marburg.” That was in 1980, and that’s where she was infected by the political enthusiasm of the German students.

Everything she then describes could also come from a Democratic party platform. Trudy wants to invest in education, legalize abortion, introduce health insurance, fight poverty, prevent Donald Trump, and show responsibility towards the Palestinian civilian population. The fact that Nikki Haley, together with Trump, ensured the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 and almost completely canceled aid payments to Palestine seems to have fluttered past Trudy.

What does she like about Nikki Haley? “I am a feminist. I don’t vote based on party, but based on people. She was a good governor. It boosted our economy and brought companies like Volvo to South Carolina.”

Those who attend the rally are already convinced

Then there is Marti, 73, who came from Florida especially for Nikki. She travels with her 18-year-old dog after her idol all over the country; they have also been together in New Hampshire despite Marti’s heart problems. There is a sticker with “I Pick Nikki” stuck on the dog’s coat. Marti sees Haley as a kind of spiritual leader who will bring peace back to the world with her feminine energy.

Rick, 82, a retired lawyer, has been crossing America on a “Walking to Fix Democracy” tour since 2022, on foot from California to Washington. He had to interrupt the trip at times to look after his wife, who was suffering from cancer and died a few months ago. Nikki, he believes, can bring the torn country back together.

America is mixed, urban, young. More than half of the population is non-white. But there is little sign of that in this Republican-leaning district in north Charleston. And even though Haley is making fan appearances like this one almost every day these days, shaking an average of 300 hands a day, relatively few people are politically active compared to the general population. Those who are there – the worried, the angry, the enthusiastic and the excited – are already convinced anyway.

5:30 p.m. Gradually the brewery fills with beer mugs and chatter. Families with children are milling around, a bit of a fair, a bit of Trump bashing. A mother says she is tired and doesn’t want to talk. The child tells us about his funniest moment in the election campaign: That was when the eliminated Republican candidate Chris Christie called Donald Trump “Donald Duck”. The boy laughs his head off, the mother presses her bright red lips together and smiles sourly.

Haley promises a tougher line on migration

Finally there are a few young faces floating around. A handful of black people like Republican activist Christen, 27, who is interviewed by the conservative television station Fox News and constantly giggles with excitement about being on television. “I am pro-Israel,” she says as cheerfully as if we were talking about a horse race and not a war. Her friend, who wears a cowboy hat and wants to vote for Donald Trump, nods in agreement.

Or Christopher, 43, who came with his pregnant partner to defend democracy from Donald Trump. He wears a navy blue cap from Duke: the elite North Carolina university where he studied law years ago. Today, Christopher is an immigration attorney. “Our asylum system is fundamentally broken,” he says. That’s why he chooses Nikki, who promises a tougher line on migration.

And Nikki herself? She seems to want to please everyone in her 33 minutes. Sometimes she sounds like Sahra Wagenknecht (“50 percent of Americans can’t afford diapers, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer”), other times she sounds more like the AfD (“They want to foist the Syrians on us in South Carolina, we fought back.” ), tosses around a dizzying array of statistics and casually twists the facts (“Hamas and Iran invaded Israel”).

At the end she is conciliatory: “Don’t you want to live in a country where we can talk to each other again?” Applause. Who does not want that?


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