The lone challenger to Donald Trump is pinning her hopes in her home state of South Carolina that has its primaries on February 24, to be followed by Super Tuesday of March 5 when more than a dozen states have their show.

But deep down Nikki Haley knows that she is battling all odds even in her backyard with polls showing Trump on a cruise mode. The thinking is that Haley’s exit could come earlier than the South Carolina primary.

Trump is furious that Haley is not seeing the writing on the wall. After all after a commanding show at Iowa, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called it quits and the Indian American entrepreneur, Vivek Ramaswamy was not too far behind.

Ramaswamy explained that while capitalism was indeed all about competition, it also had one other important lesson: resource allocation. But Haley is of the view that while New Hampshire may be first in the nation for primaries, it certainly is not the last.

Haley came within a respectable margin in New Hampshire — 12 points separated her from Trump. But what is being impressed is that with all the large chunk of independents, the former UN Ambassador could not come within striking distance of her former boss. And Haley is confident that people of South Carolina know her track record, a state where she was Governor twice. But South Carolina is also a state that handsomely voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

At this stage, prominent South Carolina law makers like Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham along with Governor Henry McMaster are with Trump. And one count has it that at least 136 Members of Congress are with Trump —111 House Republicans and 25 Senators with Senator Jon Cornyn of Texas being the latest addition. Haley apparently has the backing of a lone Republican in the House of Representatives and none in the Senate.

Trump is fuming that his campaign is forced to fork out money for primaries fighting Haley when it could be diverted to taking on Joe Biden. Haley is perhaps hoping to cash in on a perception within the Grand Old Party voters that a good portion of them do not wish to see a Trump-Biden re-match in 2024. But New Hamphire showed Trump’s momentum cutting across voters. And many states in the South that are slated for Super Tuesday are the former President’s strongholds.

Trump’s court battles

Anything can happen between now and November 5, 2024 and for the most part attention is on the legal calendar of Trump stretching from keeping him away from state ballots — Colorado and Maine already having taken the lead but tied up in courts — to prosecutors in New York, Atlanta and Washington working on 91 indictments over four criminal charges including one pertaining to hush money payment to an adult actress. If past is anything to go by, Trump has used court appearances for political advantage either attacking the prosecution or taking issue with the Judge.

The Biden campaign which perhaps had hoped for a re-match with Trump is suddenly finding the Republican primaries coming to a quick close; and has to take on a resurgent former President who has promised to give all. Forget opinion surveys that show Trump or Haley in the lead over the Democratic incumbent, not many have totally written off the terrifying prospect of the former President once again losing and starting all over again — on voter fraud and rigging. If nothing works, will Trump be in the fray for 2028?

In all probabilities, this 2024 election could be not on policy alternatives but on who is able to scare the voter more. Democrats will paint a doomsday scenario on a Trump return; and Republicans of a fumbling Biden Presidency, with a President not knowing what is happening around him. Globally, countries have started looking at the prospect of a Trump return and what this could entail for long established alliances in Europe and the Asia Pacific.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and UN