Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Projects: Donald Trump Wins South Carolina GOP Primary. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 24, 2024 - 19:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's come back to tonight and see what we're looking for. We're going to get votes any minute now. Number one, Donald Trump is expecting a big win. Number two, if he gets that big win, he will do something that is simply unprecedented in a contested primary. He won Iowa. He won New Hampshire. He won Nevada. He won all of those pretty big margins. He's expecting a very healthy margin here.

In the end, Jake, the game is about delegates, 50 at play tonight, Donald Trump expects to get most. Some people think he could get them all.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, polling places are about to close in South Carolina, five seconds left in the GOP presidential primary fight between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. And right now, we can make a major projection.

CNN projects that Donald Trump will win the South Carolina Republican primary, defeating former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in her home state and securing his fourth major early victory in the GOP primary season. The former president taking another critical step toward winning his third Republican presidential nomination, and continuing his dominance over the race. Ahead of the all-important and delegate rich Super Tuesday contests just 10 days from now.

We're able to make this projection based on exit polls that CNN and other news organizations conducted with thousands of South Carolina voters after they cast their ballots.

Again, CNN is projecting Donald Trump will be the winner of the South Carolina Republican primary.

Let's go to CNN's Kristen Holmes at Trump headquarters in Columbia, South Carolina.

Kristen, what is the mood there after this news, this very quick CNN projection?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually they're just starting to hear it now. You can hear people cheering behind me. This is not unexpected. Donald Trump and his team had expected that he would win. The question, of course, being how large is that margin going to be. The recent polls have had it up a roughly 30 points. Now we are told that Donald Trump is going to come out shortly and speak to thank all of his supporters here, and he will be on a plane back to Florida later tonight.

Now, again, as you noted, as John noted, this is a sweep for Donald Trump. It is all for early states by huge healthy margins and what they are hoping that this does -- you can hear people cheering now. They're getting the news behind me. There's a lot of excitement. But they're hoping what this does is with this fourth win particularly here in South Carolina, that this is going to help urge Republicans who are on the fence, who believe that there might be an alternative to Donald Trump, to get behind the former president.

They also hope that this will help with some of those holdout donors. What they really want to be doing now is pivoting to the general election, building out their campaign in various states, particularly, I'm told Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan. Now it's harder to do that if he is still competing against Nikki Haley. But that's what they are hoping to do. They were also hoping a huge margin here might put more pressure on the former South Carolina governor because this is her former home state, because this is another state that she has lost, to drop out of the race.

However, as you have reported, as we have continued to say, Haley says she is not going to drop out until every primary ballot has been cast. It is again, though, it looks like the Republican Party has really started to come around completely for the former president as he wins this fourth early voting states.

TAPPER: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much, Kristen Holmes.

And let us mark this moment, first of all, this is Nikki Haley's home state and we are calling this race for Donald Trump the moment that the polls closed, meaning it is a decisive victory for Donald Trump over her in her home state.

That's one. Two, no non-incumbent has ever done this. Four primaries and caucuses in a row. This really does show the dominance of Donald Trump when it comes to the modern Republican primary. It is essentially as if he is the incumbent president as far as these voters are concerned.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSNIGHT WITH ABBY PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think he is essentially the incumbent for the Republican Party. Nikki Haley knew that coming into this and that's why a lot of people thought she might want to avoid an embarrassing moment in her home state by leaving the race before that. But it almost seems like something has changed for her between New Hampshire and between South Carolina. The question is, what exactly is it?

She's standing her ground saying she wants to stay in it. She seems personally deeply offended, especially because Trump has personally attacked her and her family, where else does that go for her and could this be a candidacy that might be less about how to challenge Trump in the primary and more about what is she going to say about Trump for the benefit of voters writ large? I don't know that Nikki Haley knows the answer to that question just yet, but increasingly that is going to be what people are talking about.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, we're already hearing from her team the arguments about why she isn't going to go anywhere arguing that on Super Tuesday 11 of the 16 states have open or semi-open primaries, meaning people who are not traditional Republicans or registered Republicans can vote in those primaries. But as Lindsey Graham said earlier on this program, he called her friend, but he basically said, to what end?


And the answer to that question is, from her perspective, still is I want to stay in the race, I want to give people a choice, and until and unless she stops getting money in her coffers in order to do that, it's hard to see how she's going to change.

MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, she could stay in the race as long as she wants.

BASH: She can.

PRESTON: But eventually the delegate math is going to be too much for her. And the Trump team believes by mid-March or so, that's when she'll be effectively eliminated. And look, there is some precedent for candidates who have no chance of winning staying in the race. Bernie Sanders did that of course against Hillary Clinton for some time. Of course, and the Hillary people kind of blamed him for costing her the race.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton did it to Barack Obama.

RAJU: Exactly. So that can certainly continue to play out.

TAPPER: He was winning in some races, we should note. Yes.

RAJU: Very good point. But what's also interesting here is that just how nothing seems to have stuck against Donald Trump. All the things that he's said, whether it's about inviting NATO countries to be attacked by Russia if they did not pay their dues, criticizing Nikki Haley's deployed husband, killing the bipartisan immigration, the border security deal. Even as voters in this state say immigration is the number one issue for them. None of these things worked and we're seeing Donald Trump currently have a resounding victory.

BASH: Yes, and I'm really interested to see his approach when he speaks tonight because remember the last time he gave a major speech in New Hampshire he certainly didn't give this speech that his aides wanted him to give. Now that was because he spoke after Nikki Haley and she really -- because she, from his perspective, sounded like she was giving a victory speech. He went very, very far off script. We heard, again, Graham say he hopes that he gives a -- effectively a magnanimous speech.

RAJU: Yes, he said gracious. He said gracious speech.

BASH: Gracious. Thank you. We'll see what happens, but that will sort of set the direction or the tone of what we are going to see at least in the next couple of days.

PHILLIP: Yes. I asked someone close to the Trump campaign about what is the feeling inside the campaign about Nikki Haley. And I was surprised to hear that it wasn't as negative as one would expect, given how the two have been really at it these last few weeks. It'll be interesting to see how far he goes because remember after Iowa, he tried to kind of give this olive branch thing.

TAPPER: Sorry to interrupt. Donald Trump is speaking, a big night for him. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And even bigger win than we anticipated. And --


TRUMP: I was just informed that we got double the number of votes that has ever been received in the great state of South Carolina. So that's pretty good. So it's a record times two and there's something going on in the country, some really great things are going on. You look outside and you see all of the horror. You see millions and millions of people coming across the border illegally. We don't know where they come from.

They come from jails, they come from prisons, they come from all sorts of places that we don't want to know. They come from mental institutions and insane asylums, and we don't want that in our country. We're not going to stand for it. We're not going to stand for it. You have terrorists coming in. You have people coming in that we just can't -- we can't do this. No country could sustain what's happening to the United States of America. No country.

So we're going to straighten things out. The border is the worst it's ever been. You know, in 2016, we won, and we had a bad border and I talked about the border a lot, talked about it a lot. And I said we're going to fix it. We're going to fix it. We fixed it very quickly. And in 2020, we couldn't talk about it, although we did get millions of more votes a second time. But now there's a spirit that I have never seen.

We ran two great races, but there's never been ever, there's never been a spirit like this. And I just want to say that I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now. Never been like it. And a big part of that is the people standing behind me.

These are the biggest officials in South Carolina, but I say like the biggest officials that our country as far as I'm concerned. They're really -- they're state figures, but they're national figures. And in the truest sense of the word, they love our country so much and they want to see our country succeed and be respected again.

Right now we're a laughingstock all over the world. Our country is going to be respected again, respected like never before. So this is a fantastic evening. It's an early evening and a fantastic, so you could all go down and you can celebrate for about 15 minutes and we have to get back to work because the big day, the big day, you know, Michigan is coming up.


We're doing great. The autoworkers are going to be with us 100 percent because they got sold out by this country. But Michigan is up and we're going to have a tremendous success there. And then we have a thing called Super Tuesday and I think we're leading 91 to seven overall.

If you don't mind, may I have the pleasure of introducing some incredible people because they stuck right from the beginning, from the very moment we announced and they believe in make America great. That's what they believe in. They believe in America first. We're putting America first. First of all, my family, Melania, Barron, Don Junior and Kimberly, Ivanka and Jared, Tiffany and Michael.

They're so supportive, so supportive family. Really appreciate it and love them. They're great. We have a great family and we have incredible friends and we're going to be up here on November 5th, and we're going to look at Joe Biden and we're going to look him right in the eye. He's destroying our country and we're going to say, Joe, you're fired, get out. Get out, Joe, you're fired. They're destroying our country and we're going to -- I just wish we could do it quicker.

Nine months is a long time. I just wish we could do it quicker, Mr. Governor. I wish we -- is there anything you can do with your vast powers to make that -- you know, in certain countries you're allowed to call your election date. If I had the right to do it, I'd do it tomorrow. I'd say, we're having an election tomorrow.

Henry, is there anything you can do? I want to start up because right from the beginning, Henry McMaster, the governor of this incredible state, and much more importantly, his wife Peggy, she's with him all the way. I'll tell you. I never saw anything. What a couple. But I'd like to ask him to say a few words.

He's a very special man, an incredible governor, very popular in this state. And really, I mean, he gave us some very good advice and he has right from the beginning -- you know, from the day I announced, I had the lieutenant governor, he was the lieutenant governor, and from right at the beginning when I announced, then I said, I don't know the gentleman. Is he good?

They said he's really great. I said, well, I hope so. And you know what, when we're about two weeks, I said that guy is unbelievable. You know, I never got the support of the governor. She supported somebody else but I had the support of somebody much, much better. Henry McMaster, and we won in a landslide. And I'd like to ask the governor to say a few words. Please, Henry?

GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. President. I'll be very brief. I'd like you all to remember this moment that you are here, this is a great moment in American history. We will probably never see another one like it. Every time a rocket launches, you know, it goes up slow and it is climbing and climbing and then boom, that next stage comes off and it goes, well, we just did that. We just hit maximum velocity. And we're going all the way.

TRUMP: So I'm going to ask somebody else said because he came on board and Lindsey wanted him and the lieutenant governor wanted him and everybody wanted them. Henry and Peggy wanted him. So I thought he was OK, but he didn't love speaking about himself because he's a good person. See, I have no problem with that is the problem. What a personality, I don't know. But he endorsed me and then we asked him to go and do a few shows and, you know, they're not often nice shows.

They're very hostile. And what he did was, I said, is this the same man? And he campaigned nicely, but he's a high-quality person. When he was supporting me, the day, is that correct, Lindsey, when he went out, Tim Scott, Senator Tim Scott, he went out and he was ripping it. I said -- I said what happened to Tim Scott? What a dynamo. And he has been one of our great advocates. He's been doing things that have been unbelievable and I'm just very happy.

He didn't have that same energy drive because I think I probably would have been out of the race a long time ago. But I wanted to say a very special man, I really do mean it. So many people have such great respect for him. And you're very lucky to have him in the state.

Tim, please say a few words.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Hello, South Carolina. The longer I speak, the less you hear of him. So let me just ask one survey question and you better answer it loud and clear. Is South Carolina Trump country?


TRUMP: Thank you very much, Tim. Really great job. Amazing.

Another man, not a lot of people know him. He doesn't do too much television. He happens to be a little bit further left than some of the people on this stage, but I always say, when I'm in trouble on the left, I call up Lindsey Graham and he straightens it out so fast. And I'll tell you -- no, no, no, no. Remember, remember --


TRUMP: I love him. He's a good man. Come up here, Lindsey. Come up here, Lindsey. Come here.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): OK. Are you ready? America, the nightmare you're facing is just about over. Help is on the way. This is the most qualified man to be president of the United States, and let it be said that South Carolina created the biggest political comeback in American history.

TRUMP: Thank you, Lindsey. So I have a son, he's a very talented guy. They worked so hard and we love him and his wife is very good. She goes on and, Lara. And I want to thank Eric and Lara for doing such a fantastic job and really amazing. They're amazing people.

Let's go down a little list of some of the people that are up here tonight because every one of them is a star in their own right. And your lieutenant governor is going places. You do know that, right?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Been listening to former president Donald Trump, giving his victory speech. Overwhelming results in South Carolina. We called it right at the top of the hour as soon as the polls closed.

Back with me here in New York. Listen, we've heard a lot of Trump speeches.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, RIP the Reagan GOP, there's something so jarring about watching Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, all of who condemned him after January 6th, lining up to do their best campaign rally impersonation, and saying this is the most qualified to be president.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, the night of January 6th, Lindsey Graham was saying he was, you know, done.

GRIFFIN: I'm done with him.


GRIFFIN: Enough. I mean, listen, it is the greatest political comeback in history. Just three years ago, he was done in the party and it only took a matter of months before he came back and handily won in Nikki Haley's home state. The question now becomes this. She's held on, we'll see where the margins break down tonight to about just under a third of Republican votes in some of these primaries.

How many of those votes will go to Donald Trump? Because he will need those in a general election. Some of those are never going to be with him. But how many is the open question now.

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, for me, you know, Tim Scott is obviously auditioning to be vice president. And every time Trump just ritually humiliates him, talks about him having low energy, makes fun of his campaign, and then Tim Scott gets out there and he tries to do something that's really not natural to him. And then he walks off. But, you know, we're talking about before, this is kind of the pathway that Pence got on.

And so you might not just be watching the resurrection of a Tim Scott, but you might also be watching the aggression of Trump, the rise of Tim Scott.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I cannot think of a Republican that I want to be vice president more than Tim Scott. We love Tim Scott. All Republicans of all stripes love Tim Scott, and I agree with what Donald Trump said. I think he's a good man. And I think he's a humble man. And I want him to do whatever he has to do to get this job. I really do because I think --

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: You're in love. I think he is.

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: You should feel good.

JENNINGS: (INAUDIBLE) on what is going on here. But politics has become performative and he is doing what he has to do. And if he is on this ticket, Republicans are going to love it. They're going to love Tim Scott. I'm glad to see him going on.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Tim Scott is a -- I firmly believe Tim Scott is a good man.


SELLERS: I've said that many times before. My line about Tim Scott is that I would give Tim Scott a kidney if he asked me, but I'd never vote for him, right? But the person that Tim Scott has become while auditioning, you call it auditioning, I'd probably call it something else if I was just talking to Audie and Van, and we were in a room by ourselves, but what he's doing right now is embarrassing. And I think this is not the Tim Scott that we know.


But you also see this happen with many men and women who actually find themselves in this Trump orbit. I mean, this is not who Lindsey Graham -- we knew Lindsey Graham to be before --

HUNT: He wouldn't even show his face in Munich this time, after years and years going with John McCain to the conference to celebrate the NATO alliance. He wouldn't even show up.

SELLERS: And that -- thank you. That bolsters the point that I'm making. And you're seeing a shell of who Tim Scott really is. He's not the rah-rah, this is Trump country, let's go do this. I mean, at the end of the day, I mean, what does he get from this? There's --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, maybe the vice presidency.

SELLERS: Maybe, but if he misses, what is he, HUD director?


JENNINGS: He's U.S. senator from South Carolina, and one of the most respected Republicans in the country.

SELLERS: But he's losing -- no, not either way. My point, and I think Van's point and everybody else's point is that you're losing respect day by day by going out here and audition?


GRIFFIN: There's a segment of lifelong Republicans who are mortified by what Tim Scott, and we are definitely the minority. You're absolutely right, Scott. But there are some of us where we thought you were one of the good ones, we thought you're going to tell the truth. I wouldn't know his answer to certifying the election question. That's fundamental. DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Subjugation is the

toll you have to pay when you enter Trump's world. You have to subjugate -- the whole party is subjugating itself to Donald Trump.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: Yes, which is why, like I understand the point about making it like it's embarrassing that the black guy doing this. A lot of white guys are doing it, too. And to Alyssa's point, I agree with that I know a lot of conservatives and Republicans who wince when they see some of the -- particularly the New Hampshire victory speech thing where he came on and after Vivek Ramaswamy and really did not cover himself in glory.

Where I disagree a little bit with Alyssa and where I think it's sort of significant here that Nikki Haley stays in is I really think the future of American politics is going to be the future of factions. And I miss the days we were better off when the Democratic Party had really strong and robust competing factions, where they had to negotiate with each other. Republican Party desperately needs that.

What Nikki Haley staying in the race does, I mean, there are a lot of things it does, but one of the things it does is it solidifies and gives permission structure for a big chunk of the Republican Party to be a non-Trump faction. And since Trump is not going to appoint a single person in his second administration to be a check on him, not one who could successfully there'd be no Barrs and Kellys or any of that kind of people.

The only way to hold them in check is to have a constituency in the Republican Party that will punish senators and congressmen who don't push back on some of the crazy.

SELLERS: Can you ask a question, though? But can she actually do that? Or is she the leader or creator of this mole that's a faction? If, for example, tonight, to David's point, she doesn't even do well in the first congressional district, which is the most moderate, which is -- I mean, it's Charleston, it's Berkeley, it's Dorchester, where you would think somebody like Nikki Haley can do well, if she gets bludgeoned there, disregard the rest of the state, can she be the leader of this --


GOLDBERG: My only point, pushing back on what Alyssa said, what she said, RIP to the Reagan GOP, my point is it sort of like Miracle Max. It's only mostly dead. And the way you build it back is by building up a faction like this.

AXELROD: Can I get a couple of points? I want to ask you a question, but, you know, the language is so funny because you could say the same words and they can mean something completely different. Nikki Haley says, I'm not going anywhere and the Trump folks are saying, you're not going anywhere. They're saying the same thing, but it's really, really different.

My question to you is, is she -- if she says in the near term, yes, when I raised my hand and said that that I would vote for Trump even if he were convicted, can she be the leader of that faction? You have to pay that toll in order to be the leader of the faction.

GOLDBERG: I think it'll be really hard, and I should say full disclosure, my wife used to work for Nikki Haley. I know Nikki Haley. I have no connection to her now. I think it'd be really hard. It'd be really hard to say the things that she's been saying and then endorse him.

JENNINGS: I agree with that.

GOLDBERG: But at the same time, like in 1976, Reagan ran. He didn't win, and he created a faction. That's the history of the GOP. The team --


COOPER: What do you think she say tonight? What does Nikki Haley come out and say tonight?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. This sounds like fan fiction to me. I'm sorry. Just two things. One, I do -- I don't think there's anyone who is supportive of Trump right now that doesn't want to be there. I don't think that Tim Scott feels he's subjugating himself any more than Elise Stefanik does at CPAC right now. The era where there were people who kind of went along to get along to be in office is over.

If you are on stage with Trump right now, I do think you are along because you want to be there, and Tim Scott has been performing a necessary action for Trump, who is always trying to show I'm not that racist, right? That's like always the argument, and he represents that. Just like Vivek Ramaswamy did.


The other thing is we're looking at South Carolina like it's the same South Carolina from a year ago, even though it's had explosive growth from both red and blue states. But Republicans from those states, which means the people who are going there are not the people who knew her before. And if anything, they're probably Trump supporters from other states. It's part of our cultural self-sorting.

I don't think the Rhum State you're talking about of Republicans is just going to rise up this election. It sounds like it's a years-long project.


GOLDBERG: I'm not talking about 2024. I'm talking about the future of the Republican Party.

HUNT: Well, and, Anderson, you asked like what Nikki Haley has to do tonight. I have to say I'm hearing from my Republican sources who are basically saying, look, she now is potentially going to pay a price for staying in, to her own political future, whatever that may be, especially if this is --

CORNISH: But didn't you hear people saying we still like her, just not her time.

HUNT: Sure.

CORNISH: I didn't hear people saying she's excommunicated.


HUNT: If she stays in and continues to run against Trump, I think that there is going to be -- I'm just picking up this sense that there are going to be more --

AXELROD: Trump did himself harm in New Hampshire when he stood up and behave as badly as he did in a moment of triumph. Just, you know, acting like a jerk. And I think he tried to avoid that tonight. I wouldn't mistake that for the idea that they'll all be the cool if she hangs around too long.

JENNINGS: And she's now running to be president of I told you so. I mean, the faction you're talking about is predicated on Trump winning the nomination, losing the presidency, and then she gives a speech and says, I told you. That's the fact --

GOLDBERG: I mean, I told you so --


COOPER: Alyssa, then we're going to come back.

GRIFFIN: There is a reality where we could have a conviction of Donald Trump come down late summer and I think Nikki Haley wants to stay in the race to be the person who's been raising money, raising her name ID, talking to both sides of the party and the person polling the best, trying ahead against Donald Trump.

AXELROD: It is insane to think that the party is going to turn to Nikki Haley.

GRIFFIN: I acknowledge that. That is the part of the strategy that does not work. The RNC will turn their back on her in a heartbeat because she challenged Donald Trump.

HUNT: And all these delegates are going to be Trump delegates, too. I mean, this idea that you can go to the convention and say, like, oh, look, I have these delegates in my corner and I've also managed to anger all of the other delegates in the room. The math just doesn't work.

SELLERS: Right. But I think one of the things we're doing for Nikki is we're actually lowering the bar as we go around because she just got pummeled in her home state, and I understand about the explosive growth in South Carolina. That is true, particularly in the low country and around the York County area. But the fact remains that the fundamentals of South Carolina is still the same. I mean, when you look at the upstate, I mean, it still is uber Christian conservative evangelicals.

I mean, that is South Carolina, even with all these folks that are coming from Indiana and Ohio. It's the same type of voter. I mean, we don't have a new type of voter that's emerging in South Carolina. And she was a two-term governor. I mean, winning an election in 2014 and getting beat here in 2024, that is not that long ago. I mean, we're not talking about somebody who came in with no record.

AXELROD: It wasn't long ago that she was saying I can't wait to get back to my sweet state of South Carolina. But not so sweet tonight.

SELLERS: One more point. I mean, she also abandoned Nevada and she ran a gubernatorial campaign for the past month during this primary cycle, but she just couldn't do it. So my point is I don't think the future for Nikki Haley is bright when this happens in South Carolina.

JONES: That also means the future for the Republican Party is not bright and maybe the future for the country is not bright. You have a Republican Party now that has abandoned the border. This is their -- this is what you're voting for now. When it comes to immigration, you screamed fire year one. You spread the fire year two by sending embers all over the place. You stopped the fire trucks and then you try to run on immigration and nobody is challenging that.

You also are -- you abandon Ukraine. Here you have a military state and you have Ukrainians losing cities, losing ground, and the only Republican the country stand for God's sake, do not abandon democracy, for God's sake, do not abandon Ukrainians to Putin's butchers, is Nikki Haley, and she just got destroyed in a military state. That is not just bad for Nikki Haley's future and whatever, it's bad for the Republican Party and the United States.

HUNT: And also to Jonah's point about the idea that there's going to be this kind of faction that rises up and like it can be a check on the party in the Congress. I mean, the primary election system and the way these districts are is built for the opposite.

GOLDBERG: I agree.

HUNT: It is built like take those people down one by one. I mean, look at Liz Cheney, right? She's like the prime example of that.

GOLDBERG: That's why I want to get rid of the primaries.

HUNT: Like even if, you know, even if Donald Trump were to lose the election and the whole party have to resort itself, I don't see how -- I just don't see how the party recovers from what it's become.

AXELROD: I -- you know, you said you thought people are up there because they want to be up there. I think people are up there because the reality of Republican politics today, they feel demands and being up there if they want to get reelected, if they want to be vice president. I mean power has a very -- I mean, having been on both sides of this thing.

[19:30:01] CORNISH: I get it, but there's a lot of House lawmakers who are headed

for the exits. There's been people who would have been spiritually excommunicated.

AXELROD: Right. Right.

HUNT: Right.

AXELROD: That's right.

CORNISH: I do think that we've witnessed a purge and a lot of the people who are there are the people who want to be there.

AXELROD: Right. Because they don't want to be purged.

GRIFFIN: Someone like Tim Scott, with his eyes closed alone at night, would admit that he would rather Nikki Haley be the GOP nominee than Donald Trump.

CORNISH: I think that is your judgment. I don't know what he's doing tonight, I'm just saying.

GRIFFIN: But most elected Republicans, if they were being honest with themselves would want Nikki Haley. They know that the power mechanisms are behind Donald Trump and their power and future hinges on him.

JENNINGS: But you act like Donald Trump has the ability to just make these things happen independent of what the voters want. Tim Scott's constituents, his party --

HUNT: Yup.

GRIFFIN: Look, that's --

JENNINGS: His party.

HUNT: That's correct.

JENNINGS: His party in South Carolina, everybody that votes for him and most of the people he encounters on a daily basis, are saying, I really think we should do Trump again, so there is some aspect of politics here where these people have to respond to the people that they represent.

HUNT: David, can I ask you a question about this? Because I just have been having this -- I'm wondering that if Trump himself goes away, the voters that are with him, right? Are they only with him --


HUNT: Are they not with the party? Because there was a little bit of this with Obama, right? There were a lot of people, voters in the country who were with Obama, but they weren't going to be with any generic Democrat. Is the same thing going on here?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that Trump is responding to things that -- he works the seams that he sees. He sees people's anger, he sees people's resent -- he doesn't choose these issues, because he's deeply contemplative about the problems facing America.

He chooses those things that he thinks reflects the base that he can build, and he works at them and he works at resentment and he works at anger. Can someone else come along and do it as well as he? I think that's questionable --

SELLERS: I mean, we know that voters don't turn out in other races where he's not on the ticket, right?


COOPER: Let's go back to Jake in DC -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.

You know, one of the great things about these nights is that it's not about pundits, it is not about polls, it's about actual votes, and the actual votes are coming in.

This is the delegate count as of right now and for those keeping close track at home, you see Donald Trump shot shine up because 29 delegates from South Carolina.

KING: Right. There are 50 delegates at stake tonight, 29 of them are awarded to the statewide winner. He has won South Carolina, he gets the 29. That's why I left this up just so you could see this is impressive.

Whether you like Donald Trump or don't like Donald Trump, he is four and oh. And yes, he's in some ways the incumbent Republican however, this has just never been done.

TAPPER: Never been done.

KING: Never been done before.

TAPPER: On either side.

KING: On either side. So it's a big deal. Like it or not, it just shows his resilience within the new made over Trump Republican Party.

TAPPER: So let me just give the vote count if I can. So, right now, with only six percent of the vote in, Donald Trump is up. He has 58.4 percent of the vote, 27,000 and change. He is 8,209 votes ahead of Nikki Haley, who has 41 percent of the vote, almost 20,000 votes.

And one of the big things that we're looking for right now is, you talked about how the winner gets of the 50 delegates in South Carolina, the winner automatically gets 29, that leaves 21.

South Carolina has seven congressional districts. Each one of those gets three, and we're looking to see is Nikki Haley going to get any of them? KING: Right, we're looking to see and we're going to talk generally

about it right now, for this reason. We don't have enough votes yet. So we don't want to raise your expectations and say, oh, Nikki Haley is going to win three delegates here and maybe three more delegates there, because we simply don't have enough votes yet to be confident about within each congressional district.

But I will -- I'll highlight it for you, the idea, and you can see it on the map. Your eyes don't lie to you right here. She is leading right now in two counties. These are not congressional districts. She's leading right now in two counties. One is here at Richland County, which is the home of the State Capitol, Columbia.

Marco Rubio won this county. Donald Trump won 44 of the 46 counties the first time, 2016 Republican primary. Donald Trump won 44 of 46 back then. That's how strong he has been from the beginning in South Carolina.

But this is one that Rubio won and then Governor Haley endorsed him. But again, she is at 64 percent, so that's a nice early lead, but we're only at a quarter of the vote.

Early votes tend to come in first here. You know, she did have an early voting operation in the state. She knows that.

Let's just wait and see if this holds in this county. Go ahead.

TAPPER: Do you have congressional districts up there?

KING: I do have the congressional districts. I will show you in just a second about that. I just want to come out here first and I just want to raise the caution again.

I'm going to come back here to Charleston County along the coast right here. Bakari was just talking about this. She's at 62 percent if you round that up to 38, if you round that up, but the more important number at the moment is that, two percent.

So again, you get some early votes most likely coming in here and this is -- this essentially is a congressional district, the lines move a little bit. So if she holds this, if -- if -- if -- if she holds this, she would get three delegates. There are again, 50 total. So I'll come back out.

I'm going to show you the congressional district map, but I'm going to show you with a huge caveat. We have a long way to go. We have a long way to go to count enough votes within the congressional district, but this is the map right here, and then you do it by congressional district. You see the lines, right?

So at the moment, see where she was winning down here. The congressional district stretches up, so Trump is winning. She was winning in here, the congressional district stretches out so Trump is winning.

[19:35:05] So at the moment, as the results come in, she's not leading in any of

the congressional district.

TAPPER: Right. But this is early yet.

KING: Right, right. This is early. So, if you look at the map right now, it's a possibility, emphasis on "possibility," Donald Trump could get all 50. If he wins, all seven congressional districts, he gets them all.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: But if you come back out to the actual vote, you do see, again, this congressional district goes up here to where you see the red. This congressional district stretches into some of these areas where you see red.

So is it possible Nikki Haley could pick up some delegates? Yes. Is Trump going to get the overwhelming bulk of them? Absolutely. Yes.

TAPPER: So one of the reasons I wanted to ask about the congressional districts is because I wanted you to know who represents these people, because in some of them, there are people that you probably have heard of if you're watching this on a Saturday night.

Nancy Mace -- Congresswoman Nancy Mace represents the first congressional district that used to be represented by Mark Sanford after his scandal, and before. It used to be represented by Joe Cunningham, and now it is represented by Nancy Mace, who Nikki Haley endorsed when Donald Trump was backing somebody against Nancy Mace in the primary two years ago, but Nancy Mace endorsed Donald Trump this time around.

KING: So she doesn't get a primary.

TAPPER: Well, she won't have a primary, but she's also very enthusiastic.

KING: She does have a primary. She's hoping for Trump's support.

TAPPER: Oh, I see. I see.

KING: Yes.

TAPPER: All right, in any case, that is one of the reasons and then Columbia -- is that Clyburn?

KING: Coming out.

TAPPER: That represent Columbia?

KING: Coming up. He is more up from --

TAPPER: Let's see Greenville. Who represents Columbia? Do we know?

KING: I don't have that. TAPPER: We'll have an answer for you in a second. But right now, still

ahead, the big question after Donald Trump's projected win, what is his margin of victory going to be over Nikki Haley? We're standing by for more votes to come in from South Carolina.

And we're waiting to hear from Nikki Haley about her home state defeat. Back in the moment.



TAPPER: And we're bringing you a key race alert right now in the South Carolina Republican primary, which we have already called for Donald Trump. Let's take a look at the vote board here: 10 percent of the estimated voters in and Donald Trump is up with 57.6 percent of the vote. He has 50,794 votes, he is almost 14,000 votes ahead of Nikki Haley who is 41.9 percent of the vote. She has 36,987 votes.

There are 50 delegates at stake, and this is just 10 percent of the vote. We're expecting many more votes coming in throughout the night. Let's go now to Kylie Atwood who is at Nikki Haley campaign headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina.

We do expect Governor Haley to speak at any moment. Kylie, any indication of what Governor Haley might say? It is a surprisingly festive event that you're at. I have to say, I would think that perhaps it would be a little bit more funereal given the unfortunate news for her, but tell us what we are expecting tonight.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it was actually a bit of a muted response here in the room when CNN projected that Trump was going to win here in South Carolina, Nikki Haley's home state.

And that is until there was one man with a South Carolina loves Nikki Haley sign who started dancing in front of the projection behind us playing CNN, playing our projection that Trump is going to win. And that was when Trump was speaking that he started doing that.

Then chants broke out in the room for Nikki Haley, and over the course of the last half hour or so, the room has really filled up. I will say, I went out and spoke to some of her supporters. There was not one person who believed that Nikki Haley losing South Carolina means the beginning of the end of her campaign.

They were very defiant. They believe she's going on. I spoke with one supporter who is headed to North Carolina, which of course is a Super Tuesday state to try and get voters there, to head out to the polls for Nikki Haley.

And she told me, "I don't think this is over." I spoke with another person in the room who said, we're all for anyone who isn't Donald Trump. So there is quite a bit of energy in this room for Nikki Haley, even though they recognize that she is likely to lose here in her home state. I do want to point out one thing, her campaign put so much time and

resources into this state. They had more than 30 campaign events here over the last month. They really tried to do everything they can to compete here, to get supporters to vote for Nikki Haley, but I also spoke with campaign aides today who recognize that there were frustrations along the way, just because of the stronghold that Trump has here on the Republican Party in South Carolina and just on voters generally.

For example, Clemson University, which is Nikki Haley's alma mater, the Republican Party of that college actually endorsed Donald Trump. That was a frustrating thing for the campaign. Of course, Nikki Haley did do an event there, it was a pretty large event. But there have been frustrations along the way.

We are watching to see when she comes out here. Of course, after the New Hampshire projection was made for Donald Trump, she came out pretty quickly. Tonight, Donald Trump beat her to the stand, but we'll see when her campaign decides it is a good moment for her to talk to her supporters here in the room -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood at Haley headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina.

So I guess one of the things that's interesting, as we look at the exit polls, David Chalian, is Kylie said something interesting. They're frustrated with the stronghold, the lock that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party in South Carolina, and everywhere else -- everywhere and let's talk about the voters that Donald Trump won today to look at the degree of that struggle.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Exactly, Jake, and I mean, we are digging into these numbers to see what powered this big victory tonight. I guess right now he is about 15 points ahead, 15 percentage points ahead of Nikki Haley in the vote count, but look at his huge swathes of the party that he just dominates with.


So among those who say they consider themselves part of the MAGA movement, which is 44 percent of the electorate, nearly half the electorate, Donald Trump, obviously, he is the leader of that movement gets 89 percent of them, Haley only 11 percent.

Among those who say they are very conservative, now, this is 43 percent of the overall electorate, Trump wins 86 percent of them and just what a difference eight years make? Eight years ago in this primary, which he won, he did not win the very conservative voters. Ted Cruz won the very conservative voters even though Trump won the primary.

But again, 86 percent, Trump's party. Take a look among White evangelicals, similar story. So 61 percent of the electorate is White evangelical Christian today. Trump wins three-quarters of them. Eight years ago, he won a third of them.

He bested Cruz with these voters, but he was only at a third. He now has three quarters of them inside this Republican primary today.

And then, on the issue of immigration, 68 percent of voters in the primary today say their preference is for favoring deporting most undocumented immigrants here, 68 percent say that's the preferred immigration policy, deport the undocumented. Trump wins them 79 percent to 21 percent for Haley and we saw that immigration was indeed the very top issue, most important issue for voters in this primary.

TAPPER: Fascinating stuff.

We're going to take a quick break and when we come back we're expecting former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to speak at any moment.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Hey, we've got another key race alert for you in South Carolina Republican primary: With 20 percent of the estimated vote in, Donald Trump is still in the lead. He has 58.8 percent of the vote. That's 97,933 votes, roughly 30,000 votes ahead of Nikki Haley, who has 40.7 percent of the vote. She has 67,798 votes. That's 20 percent of the vote in. He still has a rather commanding lead.

Let's go to John King at the magic wall here to see what exactly -- where exactly these votes have come in. Forty percent is not a victory, but it's still better than she's done in any primary, but it's still her home state and she probably should be doing better.

KING: If you want delegates, which if, number one, winning would give you an actual victory.

TAPPER: Always good.

KING: If you look at the map off your shoulder, you can look at it that way. Donald Trump has won the first four contests now and he is up to 92 delegates.

TAPPER: Never been done.

KING: It's never been done. You know, it is like an asterisk there, if you will, that it's never been done in a contested primary and he is sort of the Republican incumbent. But she asked for a one-on-one contest. She got it in New Hampshire, she asked for a one-on-one contest, she got it in South Carolina. He's a long way from the 1,215 you need to win, mathematically, but as we all know, a lot of nominating contests are settled --

TAPPER: Early on.

KING; Early on by a winning streak and he has an amazing winning streak. The question now is, you know, as we wait, we're at about 22 percent of the vote. Can she stay above 40 percent? And more importantly, as she says she's staying on through Super Tuesday, you at least want to be able to say you're amassing some delegates, he's going to get the most. He is going to get the overwhelming majority.

He's at 92 to her 17.

TAPPER: He's already got 29 in South Carolina.

KING: And he's already got 29 tonight, he could get all 50. If he doesn't get all 50, you know, there's one or two congressional districts where she would get three. Seven districts, three delegates for each district. We have to wait to see that come in.

But let's just look at the places right now. Let's just start with Haley, because of the 46 counties in South Carolina, she is right now leading in three, but again, 14 votes to 12 votes, this is a pretty Republican area. So I wouldn't go to Vegas --

TAPPER: That's not decisive.

KING: I would not go to Vegas on that one.

TAPPER: Fourteen to 12.

KING: This one is that -- this is a county that if Haley is running strong, Marco Rubio won this county in 2016, for example, against Donald Trump. So if she is running strong, this is a place where she could win and it's a big piece of a congressional district but it's not the entire congressional district. Columbia is kind of split, the county is split, not Columbia. The county is split in two districts.

But in Richland County, she is only 64 percent of the vote at the moment, but again, only a quarter of the voting. So it's way too early to make any assumption based on that, and then this was -- this should be -- this should be her strongest area of the state.

This is Charleston County, call it the Low Country. Again, a congressional district. You know, the former Governor Mark Sanford represented it, came to Congress, was governor, then left the governorship. She was the governor who succeeded him.

He won the seat again then lost it because he criticized Donald Trump. He had a Trump primary there, but she's got 64 percent of the vote there. We are up to 33 percent. So conceivable, there's still a ways to go in the count, conceivable she wins this county.

But again, congressional district that this county is involved in stretches up here as well. So this math we have to do on that. So at the moment, though in the state, she won election twice as governor, she is leading in three of 46 counties. She's getting thumped.


KING: At home.

TAPPER: So and just for those trying to keep track of the delegate math, 50 delegates from South Carolina, the winner gets 29 of them automatically. Trump has already been assigned those in our delegate count. So then there are seven congressional districts and whoever wins the congressional district gets three delegates for each congressional district.

Right now, it is so early, but right now it's possible. Nikki Haley could win maybe two congressional districts based on what we're seeing in these very, very early numbers, but we don't know.


But it does appear that that is the -- at least right now, with all we know which is very limited, right now she might get six delegates. Maybe.

KING: That would be if -- if -- if -- if that happened, it would be 44 for him and six for her.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: Delegates of the 50 in South Carolina.

TAPPER: Theoretically, that is what we think based on our limited knowledge and information right now, the best that she could have.

KING: And sorry to disappoint you at home, we may not know the answer to that tonight.

TAPPER: Right.

KING; Because, again, there's a congressional district that splits this county. There is a congressional district that includes this county, but it stretches up into here.

And so these folks have to be counted by the state, they have to make sure some of the precincts -- make sure this precinct is in the district, this precinct is over the line. So getting the votes by district, by county, they come in pretty quickly. By congressional districts, sometimes that math takes a little longer.

TAPPER: But what's interesting about it for people at home is some people might think, well, there are 50 congressional districts, why wouldn't they just divide them up if this ends up being the margin of victory, why wouldn't they just have Nikki Haley get 40 percent of them and Donald Trump gets 60 percent of them? Why wouldn't they just do that? And it's because that's not how South Carolina Republicans decided they want to do it.

Different states have different rules. Pretty soon, we'll move into a lot of winner take all primaries the way South Carolina does it is, there are actually 26 winner take all delegates, then there are three Republican National Committee delegates that are allocated to the statewide winner.

So there's 29, essentially, whoever wins the state gets the first 29 and the other 21, three for each of the seven districts. TAPPER: But it is if you look at why they do it that way. They are

trying to stop competition. They are trying to have the winner, if the winner has some sort of momentum going on, do better and like move people out who might be challenging that frontrunner. I mean, that's my interpretation...

KING: Yes.

TAPPER: ... of why they would have rules like that. Not that they set them up for Donald Trump, but maybe they -- maybe that he wasn't -- maybe he was on their mind to begin with.

KING: The party has a rule that you cannot have a winner take all-all. Winner takes everything.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: Congressional districts don't matter. They can't have that until next month, but that rule comes up pretty soon.

TAPPER: Very interesting -- Dana Bash.

BASH: Okay. Thank you so much.

I think look, one of the headlines from that discussion is that Donald Trump is going to get almost all, if not all of the delegates in South Carolina tonight. And yet, we saw, Abby earlier, Kylie was at Haley headquarters. We haven't heard from her yet. We certainly expect to hear from her this evening, and there was a party going on.


BASH: Square that circle, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yes, look --

RAJU: There is an open bar.

PHILLIP: Right, right. There is that and I covered Bernie Sanders in 2016 when he kept his campaign going for a little while, and his supporters were enthusiastic.

It's a good sign for the strength of the support for Nikki Haley in the state right now, but that room is a small room when it's compared to the rest of the Republican Party.

And these zombie candidacies, which Nikki Haley's candidacy might very well become very soon, they can have an impact. This is maybe bringing in the delegate conversation they were just having. Sometimes acquiring delegates going into a convention can give you leverage over what happens in that convention, over what the eventual nominee does.

Sometimes it keeps the conversation going about alternatives. Sometimes, this is -- well, I shouldn't say sometimes -- this is the one time when we could be facing a scenario, some people in the Republican party believe in which the Republican nominee might in some way disqualify himself before we get to November. And then what?

And the answer could be whoever is still technically a candidate, it could be Nikki Haley.

BASH: Which is that last point is one of the key reasons you hear Nikki Haley and her campaign aides and the people around her arguing that Republican voters still need choice.

RAJU: I mean look, I mean, there are rich people in the Republican Party who don't want Donald Trump to be president, don't want him to win.

BASH: Rich people not in the Republicans Party.

RAJU: Exactly.

BASH: That can give.

PHILLIP: And a lot of them are donating to Nikki Haley.

RAJU: Exactly. The question, will they continue to do that just to make Donald Trump's life a little more difficult. The question is, you know, they've said that they're going to continue on to Super Tuesday states. We heard the campaign manager telling Kylie Atwood that they have a seven-figure ad buy in these Super Tuesday states, that is actually not a lot of money, given some of these very expensive media markets.

And there are so many of these states. So do they significantly try to amp up the money that could make Donald Trump's life more difficult, but at least keep her in the race. What is the message she's going to tell voters when she speaks here in a matter of minutes? And how does she try to you know -- does she do what she did in the last two states? I did better than expected, or does she instead say, you know, something else, say that maybe perhaps that reason, the voters still need to choice, so I'm going to stay in this race.

BASH: And I want to keep going because I am the only alternative to Donald Trump right now, and that is an important thing to have in the Republican electorate and the Republican system right now.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean as long as she has the money to keep the lights on, put aside even the money to put ads up, just the money to keep the lights on, to pay her staff, she can stay in this thing and she can make a case of why not.