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Nikki Haley Defeats Donald Trump In D.C. GOP Presidential Primary

WASHINGTON – Nikki Haley on Sunday defeated Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary in Washington, D.C., her first win against the former president.

It’s a relatively tiny victory, one Trump will almost certainly use to portray Haley as a creature of the D.C. swamp. D.C.’s 19 delegates will now cast their votes for her at the Republican National Convention in July. That’s out of 2,429 delegates, and so far, Trump has trounced her in all of the other state GOP primaries.

Right on cue, shortly after Haley’s win was announced, Trump’s campaign said her victory means “the swamp has claimed their queen.”

“While Nikki has been soundly rejected throughout the rest of America, she was just crowned Queen of the Swamp by the lobbyists and DC insiders that want to protect the failed status quo,” Karoline Leavitt, press secretary for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.

Trump has a total of 244 delegates and Haley now has 43. Whoever is first to hit 1,215 delegates will be the Republican presidential nominee. Trump is expected to get much closer following this week’s Super Tuesday primaries, where polls show him dominating from coast to coast.

But Haley’s win counts for something. For starters, unbelievably, she is now the first woman to ever win a Republican presidential primary.

Her ability to defeat Trump in any primary means he can’t celebrate a clean sweep, which, as petty as it sounds, is almost certainly going to infuriate him and delight his critics. And for Haley’s supporters in D.C., it’s a sign that there’s enough of them, even if in this small election, to send the message that they reject the MAGA grip on their party.

“It matters for her to win in D.C. because I think it’s going to frustrate Trump more and more,” said Cherry, 66, who was one of about 250 people at a Haley campaign event in D.C. on Friday afternoon. She asked to use her first name only.

“I’ve never hated a politician, but I hate Donald Trump,” she said. “This is America’s Hitler.”

A Haley victory in D.C.’s GOP primary would “put our little group on the map,” said Dennis Paul, an 84-year-old semi-retired resident.

“She seems to grasp things very well,” he said. “She’s obviously good on fiscal policy. She’s vibrant and exciting.”

Joe, a long-time D.C. resident, praised Haley for her “message of real vigor and understanding of the issues.” He said he wants her to stay in the race as long as possible, even though it’s unlikely she can win.

“First of all, she’s not Joe Biden. Secondly, she’s not Donald Trump,” said Joe, who is in his 60s and who also requested only using his first name, but confirmed his last name is not “Biden.”

“Anywhere ― anywhere ― she can win and show momentum would be great,” Joe said of Haley.

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 2: Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign rally at Raleigh Union Station on March 2, 2024 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Despite having lost every state primary thus far to Donald Trump, Haley intends to stay in the Republican race at least through Super Tuesday on March 5. (Photo by Eros Hoagland/Getty Images)

Some attendees at Haley’s event said she has come to represent something much bigger than herself.

Antonia Ferrier, a former longtime senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the late Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is now a major donor to Haley’s campaign.

She said it’s clear there is a faction of voters who “feel almost voiceless in the Republican Party.” She rattled off recent polling that has deeply frustrated her: Nearly 70% of Americans don’t want a Biden-Trump rematch in November. Nearly 60% think they’re both too old. More than 40% of voters are registering as independent, tying a record high in 2014.

“There is a collective scream in this country,” said Ferrier, who is currently an executive at a GOP nonprofit focused on advancing democracy. “It’s like a collective scream for a leader we can be proud of. But the established political class refuses to listen to it because of their own feedback loops or whatever fucking reason, and Haley is giving voice to that.”

Ferrier said she wants the former South Carolina governor to stay in the race as long as she can, because “she is an affirmation of the politics saying there is a better way. She gets it. It’s clear she understands it.”

“There is another way for our country,” she emphasized.

Haley herself made this point at her campaign event on Friday.

“We don’t have to live the way we’re living now,” she told the room, to applause. “But we need to be part of the solution. We’re gonna fight for Super Tuesday.”

But what is Haley’s endgame, if it’s clear she can’t defeat Trump in the Republican primary but is continuing to campaign and raise money?

“I don’t know. I don’t even know if she knows,” replied Ferrier. “But you know what? There is something about just fighting for basic fucking common decency.”

Liz Skalka contributed reporting.