Former President Donald Trump uses college football rivalry weekend to rally supporters and upstage his Republican opponent Nikki Haley on her home turf.
Former President Donald Trump made a high-profile appearance at the Clemson-South Carolina football game, using the college football rivalry weekend to connect with his supporters in a state crucial to his presidential ambitions. Trump arrived at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia to chants of “We want Trump!” from enthusiastic fans gathered for the annual Palmetto Bowl, the state’s biggest sporting event of the year. While his opponent, Nikki Haley, a Clemson alumna and former South Carolina governor, opted not to attend, Trump was accompanied by Governor Henry McMaster and Senator Lindsey Graham, showcasing his local political support.
Trump’s Political Force in South Carolina
Hours before the game, Trump’s campaign announced that he had received endorsements from “more South Carolina legislators than all opposing candidates combined.” This included support from six state lawmakers who had previously backed U.S. Senator Tim Scott before his withdrawal from the presidential race. Trump’s wide polling lead among Republican primary voters, both nationally and in early nominating states like South Carolina, demonstrates his continued popularity within the party.
Trump’s Visit to Columbia
Columbia was abuzz with anticipation for Trump’s visit. Electronic billboards around the city displayed messages highlighting Trump’s 2020 election loss and pending legal cases. Vendors around the stadium sold Trump-related merchandise, including flags from the previous election cycle. Some fans entering the stadium even chanted “Let’s Go Brandon!”—a derogatory reference to President Joe Biden. Trump’s visit to the Palmetto Bowl showcased his ability to connect with people and the fervor of his supporters in the South.
Haley’s Response and Comeback
Nikki Haley’s spokesperson, Olivia Perez-Cubas, responded to Trump’s visit by emphasizing Haley’s momentum and previous come-from-behind victories. Perez-Cubas highlighted Haley’s resilience and ability to beat the odds, stating that South Carolinians know their governor has what it takes to win. Haley has been campaigning in Iowa, where she aims to make a strong showing in the caucuses before facing Trump head-to-head in her home state of South Carolina.
South Carolina’s Role in the GOP Primary
South Carolina holds significant importance in the GOP primary calendar, falling fourth after Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. The state’s first-in-the-South primary is scheduled for February 24, 2024. Trump’s resounding victories in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday in 2016 gave him a delegate lead that propelled him to the Republican nomination. The upcoming primary in South Carolina, followed by several other Southern states on Super Tuesday, will once again play a crucial role in shaping the race.
Trump’s Sports Cameos
While Trump has made appearances in various sports events over the years, college football has consistently provided him with a warm reception. Earlier this year, he attended the Iowa State-Iowa game, stopping at a fraternity house before kickoff. As president, he also attended the 2018 national championship game and the 2019 Alabama-LSU regular season game. Trump’s affinity for college football aligns with his ability to connect with his supporters and generate enthusiasm during these high-profile events.
Donald Trump’s appearance at the Clemson-South Carolina football game allowed him to rally his supporters and overshadow his opponent, Nikki Haley, in her home state. Trump’s strong political force in South Carolina, combined with his ability to connect with people during college football games, showcases his continued popularity among Republican primary voters. As the primary season approaches, South Carolina’s pivotal role in the GOP race cannot be underestimated. The showdown between Trump and Haley in their home state will undoubtedly be a significant moment in the 2024 presidential campaign.