After losing to Trump in Michigan, next week’s Super Tuesday contests could be Haley's last stand

Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC earlier this week.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md. on Feb. 24. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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Former President Donald Trump notched another easy Republican primary victory in Michigan on Tuesday, extending his unbroken winning streak to six straight GOP contests — and deepening doubts about the prospects of his last remaining challenger, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, ahead of next week’s big Super Tuesday clash.

The Associated Press called Michigan for Trump at 9:00 p.m. EST, right as the last polls closed there. The AP also declared President Joe Biden the winner on the Democratic side, despite an effort to get voters to choose the option "uncommitted" in opposition to his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

For her part, Haley has vowed to soldier on through Super Tuesday. But she has pointedly refused to commit to anything beyond that.

March 5 is “as far as I’ve thought in terms of going forward,” Haley told reporters after casting her own vote in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

Michigan primary results

With 98% of the votes counted in Michigan, Trump received more than 756,000 (or 68.2%) to Haley's 294,000 (or 26.6%) — a margin of over 40 percentage points.

Could the end be near for Haley?

Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Minneapolis on Monday.
Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Minneapolis on Monday. (Tim Evans/Reuters)

Asked Friday if her recent pledge to continue campaigning “until the last person votes” means she intends to compete through the end of primary season in June, Haley said no — she was simply referring to the last person in South Carolina, which held its primary on Saturday.

And in another sign that Haley might not be able to sustain her bid indefinitely, Americans for Prosperity Action, a conservative group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, announced Sunday that it would no longer be spending money on her behalf.

"Given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don't believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen [Haley’s] path to victory," AFP president and CEO Emily Seidel wrote in a letter to staff.

The “challenges” ahead of Haley are formidable. On March 5, 15 states and one territory — including the big delegate prizes of California and Texas — will weigh in. A full 874 delegates, or 36% of this year’s GOP total, will be up for grabs.

Until now, Haley has been able to focus on one state at a time. She spent heavily in New Hampshire and South Carolina, placing second in both with 43% and 40% of the vote, respectively — due in large part to her outsized support among independent voters, who were allowed to participate in those states’ open primaries.

But so far, Haley has earned just 20 delegates. Trump has won more than five times that number.

How the math favors Trump

Trump kisses the American flag before speaking at CPAC on Saturday.
Trump kisses the American flag before speaking at CPAC on Saturday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

As shown in South Carolina — where Trump racked up 47 delegates to Haley’s 3 — registered Republicans who overwhelmingly favor the former president dominate even open primary contests, and winner-take-all rules mean that whoever finishes first is awarded pretty much every available delegate.

And South Carolina — Haley’s home state — might have been a high point. In Michigan, where Haley had far less time to campaign and invested far less money, she is on track to secure a smaller percentage of the vote.

This same pattern is now likely to play out with increasing frequency in the next phase of the GOP nominating contest. Winner-take-all and winner-take-most primaries will become more common; contests that award delegates proportionally like Iowa and New Hampshire (where Haley came away with 8 delegates and 9 delegates, respectively) will largely peter out.

Some primaries will be open to independents, but many will be limited to registered Republicans only. Unless something seismic happens, Trump’s lead is likely to explode as a result.

Why Super Tuesday could be decisive

Haley speaks at a campaign event in Minnesota on Monday.
Haley speaks at a campaign event in Bloomington, Minn., on Monday. (Adam Bettcher/AP)

Haley isn’t quitting yet. She has already held rallies (or will soon) in the upcoming states of North Carolina, Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah and Massachusetts, and her campaign is expected to announce additional events this week.

Haley is also on pace to hold at least 10 fundraisers in the 10 days before Super Tuesday. Her team is especially focused on states with open primaries and track records of supporting more moderate Republicans.

But they also know the odds of an upset are shrinking, as Haley’s campaign manager told reporters Friday. Recent polls in Vermont, Maine and Virginia — three Super Tuesday states with relatively centrist reputations — show Haley trailing Trump by 30 points, 58 points and 59 points, respectively.

On Friday, Haley’s campaign manager predicted that her boss would keep running until the “door closes.” After Super Tuesday, Republicans will have allocated nearly half of their delegates. A week later, 54% of delegates will be locked in; by the end of March, that number will climb to 71%. A candidate needs 1,215 delegates to clinch this year’s GOP nomination. Trump’s campaign has estimated that he will hit that mark by March 19 at the latest.

Meanwhile, whatever legal reckoning might be in store for the former president seems a long way off. His first trial — the hush money case in New York — won’t start until March 25; the jury is unlikely to reach a verdict before mid-May. Trump’s federal election-interference trial has been delayed until May or June at the earliestpossibly later if his federal documents trial conflicts. And Trump’s 2020 election trial in Georgia has been derailed by his attempts to disqualify the prosecutor.

In light of that timeline, Haley probably can’t count on the courts to change the Republican race for her. If she doesn’t want the door to close, she’ll have to keep it open herself — and Super Tuesday could be her last chance.