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Trump and Haley make final in-state pitches for Super Tuesday votes

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Trump and Haley make final in-state pitches for Super Tuesday votes

Mar 02, 2024 | 8:17 pm ET
By Joe Killian Rob Schofield
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Trump and Haley make final in-state pitches for Super Tuesday votes
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GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 02: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Greensboro Coliseum on March 2, 2024 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Former President Trump continues to campaign for his re-election bid prior to Super Tuesday on March 5. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The yawning gap between the two remaining contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination was on full display Saturday at a pair of pre-Super Tuesday campaign events in North Carolina.

Former President Donald Trump drew more than 5,000 supporters and prominent Republican candidates to the Special Events Center of the Greensboro Coliseum while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, once Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, drew about 1,500 people at downtown Raleigh’s Union Station. The two speeches, and the size and type of the crowds they drew, provided a stark view of a Republican party fractured but leaning away from Haley’s conservative pragmatism and toward the vitriol and melodrama of the Trump campaign.

Trump paints bleak picture of America, promises to again be its savior

Cool weather and light rain didn’t deter Trump fans in Greensboro, where thousands lined up hours before doors opened or the candidate arrived. Waving large Trump flags and buying Trump merchandise at a makeshift carnival midway, some came from hours and states away to show their devotion.

A photo of fans of former President Donald Trump as they wave flags hours ahead of his appearance in Greensboro on Saturday. (Photo: Joe Killian)
Fans of former President Donald Trump wave flags hours ahead of his appearance in Greensboro on Saturday. (Photo: Joe Killian)

“I just think he’s got the only solution for all of the crime, the drugs, the violence, the illegal immigrant invasion that our country is in right now,” said Carolyn Sanders, 48, who said she and her husband drove from Wilmington to see the former president. At concession stands in the Coliseum parking lot she bought a Trump shaped squeeze bottle of honey and a sticker of Trump in a crown and cape that declared “I AM A DISCIPLE OF THE GREAT MAGA KING.”  Her husband considered a t-shirt featuring an American flag and assault rifle that read, “NOT VACCINATED – FULLY PROTECTED.”

Saturday’s event, billed as a “get out the vote” effort, drew some of the state’s most prominent GOP candidates — all Trump endorsed — each looking to get their faces and campaign issues into the spotlight ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

Among the GOP elected officials and hopefuls speaking briefly at the event ahead of Trump’s arrival:

  • U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx
  • U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, now running for NC Attorney General
  • N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, now making a run for the 14th Congressional District seat
  • Addison McDowell, a registered lobbyist and first-time candidate seeking the 6th Congressional District seat
  • Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, now running for the GOP nomination for Governor

Arriving shortly after 2 p.m., Trump came to the stage to the sounds of the National Anthem as performed by “The J6 Prison Choir” – a group of men imprisoned for various criminal actions during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump referred to the men as “hostages” wrongfully imprisoned for protesting on his behalf as he attempted to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

The former president heaped praise on the other GOP candidates at the event before launching into his own speech. He reserved his most colorful acclaim for Robinson, calling him “better than Martin Luther King” and “like Martin Luther King on steroids,” joking that Robinson made a strange face when he made the comparison.

In the past, Robinson has dismissed King as both a communist and an “ersatz pastor” and called the American Civil Rights Movement a communist plot to subvert free choice and capitalism.

Trump merchandise on a table
An abundance of Trump merchandise was available to faithful followers. (Photo: Joe Killian)

With the crowd warmed up, Trump launched into a speech that ran more than an hour — with a brief interruption when someone in the audience had an emergency requiring medical attention. The speech, in Trump’s trademark rambling and improvisational style, painted a portrait of an America that has in three years under Biden become an economically devastated, crime-ridden hellscape overrun with murderous “illegal alien animals” and “monsters.” Echoing his first presidential campaign, Trump told the crowd his election — and that of those loyal to his political movement — is the only thing that can prevent further disaster.

“We are a nation whose stock market’s continued success is contingent on MAGA winning the next election,” Trump said. “If they don’t win, you’ll have a situation like 1929. You will have a Great Depression. I believe that with all my heart.”

Fact-checking Trump’s claims

Trump’s economic pessimism is stark contrast to reality.

Last week, the Nasdaq marked a second straight day of record high closes. The S&P 500 also had a record closing high while the Dow, which hit its own all-time high late last month, closed up 0.2% and has gained 3.5% year-to-date. Last month the U.S. Department of Labor reported the economy added a net 353,000 jobs in January.  Unemployment remains at a near a half-century low of 3.7 percent.

Similarly, many of Trump’s claims about his presidential accomplishments in Saturday’s speech don’t hold up to scrutiny.

On Saturday, Trump again repeated the lie that his administration created 571 miles of a wall along the border with Mexico. In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows 458 miles of “border wall system” built during Trump’s one term in office. Most of that, about 373 miles, wasn’t a new border wall but replacement of existing barriers that were considered outdated or in need of repair.

Citing recent anecdotes about violent crime and immigrants, Trump, who claimed to have coined the phrase “migrant crime,” warned of “armies Joe Biden has smuggled across our border” leading to an overwhelming wave of violent crime, particularly in America’s large cities.

Actual data show violent crime down year-over-year in Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, New York and Los Angeles. In Texas, where Trump painted a nightmare scenario of violent crime abetted by open borders, law enforcement data shows crime is down overall in the cities receiving the most migrants. What’s more, years of data show undocumented immigrants have a lower homicide conviction rate than native born Americans. The rates for legal immigrants are lower still.

In February, Trump pressed Republicans in Congress to reject a bipartisan effort to strengthen border security and provide additional aid to Ukraine. The former president wanted to campaign on the issue and not give Biden a perceived victory.

According to FBI data, violent crime rates have fallen by 4 percent and murder rates by roughly 7 percent since Biden took office in 2020. That’s down from enormous spikes in violent crime that began under Trump, with murder rising by almost 30 percent and assault by more than 10 percent in the last, COVID-19 dominated year of his presidency. Though those rates haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, the trend over the course of Biden’s time in office has been down.

Nikki Haley addresses supporters
Former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley addresses supporters at Raleigh’s Union Station on March 2, 2024. Photo: Rob Schofield for NC Newsline

Haley calls for return to “normal”

Meanwhile, 85 miles east at Raleigh’s Union Station train depot, Trump’s last challenger for the Republican nomination, former South Carolina Governor, and Trump U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, spoke to a polite and enthusiastic audience of perhaps 1,500.

In her half-hour speech, Haley, 52, sounded a call for Republicans to return to their pre-Trump identity as the party of fiscal conservatism and sought to portray herself as the only viable alternative to Trump and President Joe Biden – both of whom she described as incapable and too old for the presidency. At one point, she called for mandatory mental competency tests for all elected officials aged 75 and older (Biden is 81, Trump is 77) and, continuing with a theme that she represents a new generation of leaders, called Congress “the most privileged nursing home in the country.”

Interestingly, while Haley derided both Trump and Biden for their respective performances in office, she reserved her sharpest words for her former boss. She described his criticism of her after the New Hampshire primary as “unhinged,” and decried his embrace of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin – whom she described as a “thug,” a “tyrant” and a “madman” – as a grave threat to the security of the U.S. and its European allies. Similarly, while she blasted Biden and Democrats for leading the nation toward “socialism,” she ascribed equal blame for the nation’s budget shortfalls, massive debt and immigration policy stalemate to Republicans and Democrats.

Hoping to draw a distinction between Trump and President Joe Biden, Haley voiced her support for NATO, Ukraine, and greater security at the southern border.

“This is about preventing war,” Haley said. “They need to have the equipment and ammunition to win so that we don’t have to go to war. This is the part they don’t want you to know. Securing the border is priority number one, period. But if we just helped Ukraine and Israel, that’s only five percent of our defense budget. If we helped Ukraine, Israel and secured the border that’s less than 20% of Biden’s green subsidies. So don’t let them lie to you and say that you have to choose.”

Haley received her most enthusiastic applause from what was an overwhelmingly white and seeming affluent audience – a group that despite being bereft of any prominent GOP politicians, seemed to balk at times in cheering for her condemnations of Trump and congressional Republicans — when she talked about the trials of COVID and the growing political divisions that have gripped the nation, and spoke wistfully of growing up in the 1970’s. Saying she wanted to make it possible – especially for young people — to experience “normal” again, she recited a host of what would have been standard Republican talking points (like cutting taxes, shrinking government, and reducing illegal immigration) in the era of the Bushes, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Largely absent from her remarks – save for a fleeting dig at the idea of schoolchildren being free to adopt the pronouns of their choice – were the culture war causes that have mobilized so many on the modern far right. She made no mention of abortion, no mention of in vitro fertilization, no explicit mention of LGBTQ people, and no mention of gun rights. She also made no mention of the global climate crisis or, indeed, environmental issues at all. She did, however, call for slashing federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.

Of course, the unspoken elephant in the room for Haley on Saturday was her position in the contest with Trump. While she touted a pair of national polls that she said showed her defeating Biden by a wide margin (and that show Biden and Trump in a virtual dead heat), she offered no plausible explanation of how she plans to overcome Trump’s massive lead in securing the GOP nomination – other than, perhaps, a sudden Trump collapse in the face of multiple criminal and civil trials.

Haley ended her remarks by calling on everyone in the audience to vote for her in the state’s GOP primary and to urge their friends and family members to do likewise. Even if that were to happen, however, her chances of prevailing appear virtually nil. As of Saturday, the latest 538 polling average report shows her trailing Trump in North Carolina by a margin of 67% to 22%.