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Good morning, friends. Welcome to On the Trail 2024. I’m writing from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, where Nikki Haley is blitzing the state ahead of tomorrow’s GOP primary.

3 things to know

  1. The South Carolina GOP primary is tomorrow, and if polls are any indication, Trump should win handily. But that hasn’t stopped Nikki Haley from campaigning across her home state — and she’s getting a boost from a group of Democrats who want their fellow party members to back Haley and defeat Trump. Read more here.
  2. Nikki Haley will visit Utah Wednesday, holding a rally at UVU’s Herbert Institute and an invite-only VIP reception. It’s her first public visit to the state this election cycle, and a GOP presidential candidate’s first public stop in Utah since DeSantis last summer. Read more here.
  3. Deseret Magazine co-hosted a big event at the National Cathedral in Washington this week. The theme? “Disagree Better.” “You can’t love your country if you hate half the people in it,” said Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. More here.

The Big Idea

The New Nikki

Earlier this week, I sat on a panel at a South Carolina university discussing this weekend’s Republican primary. We got talking about the routine of campaign coverage — the rallies, flights and hotels, the stale stump speeches. I thought I’d mastered the simple parts of that routine, like packing a suitcase. But midway through the panel, I glanced down at my feet and gasped: Everyone in the audience, sitting at eye-level with my feet, had a nice look at my bare ankles. I’d forgotten to pack long socks.

I made a joke of it, and the kind folks at Coastal Carolina University were gracious. (“Men in the South don’t wear socks at all,” one overly-honest woman told me afterward.) But the incident got me thinking about the other routine things I’d been overlooking. Ask any campaign reporter and they’d tell you that the most consistent, sleep-inducing part of the job are the stump speeches themselves — every candidate has their go-to, 30-minute spiel, and after a few weeks on the road, most reporters could recite chunks of it by memory. After six months covering the Republican candidates, there are two left: Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. I have no idea what will come out of Trump’s mouth at any given moment. But Haley is much more scripted. I’ve heard her stump speech dozens of times, and there is little variation. By now, I could recite large portions by heart.

But this week, as I’ve followed Haley through the Palmetto State, I paid close attention to the things in her speech that are different from what she told voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. I found three main changes:

  1. “We have to prevent war”: After vowing unequivocal support to Ukraine and Israel, critics on both the left and the far right have accused Haley of being a warmonger and a hawk. “She’s never met a war she didn’t like,” one attendee at an Iowa Trump rally told me in November. Now, when discussing aid for veterans, Haley takes a more measured approach. She still vows support for allies like Ukraine and Israel, but she also proclaims that our foreign policy should be guided by a desire to prevent conflict. “We have to have a leader whose sole focus is to prevent war,” she told an audience in Georgetown, South Carolina, on Thursday. “That’s our number one thing: we have to prevent war.”
  2. “Our kids deserve to know what normal feels like”: Haley’s two children have long played a central role in her stump speech. Her daughter, just married, is struggling to buy a house; her son, in college, shouldn’t have to write essays on topics he disagrees with to get an A. Now, she’s added another wrinkle: the rising generation has lived through a pandemic, economic instability and the constant threat of war, exacerbated by the past two presidential administrations. “And then we want to ask why there’s so much anxiety, stress and depression,” she says. “None of this is normal. And that’s what we need to have back.”
  3. “I’m gonna tell the truth about Trump”: For the first several months of her campaign, Haley was incredibly hesitant to critique Trump. She’d needle him for not participating in debates or criticize his administration for adding to the federal deficit. But she never mentioned him more than she had to, spending her time warding off attacks from DeSantis and other challengers. Now, she’s much more willing to go head-on at the front-runner. She blasts him for proposing tax increases and tariffs. She criticizes him for spending campaign cash on his legal defense. She slams his proposals on Social Security. She denounces his attacks on Haley’s husband, who is currently deployed with the South Carolina Army National Guard. She accused him of siding with a “thug” and a “tyrant” in Vladimir Putin. And she does it all with the recognition that she’s alienating his MAGA voter base.

At this point, Haley doesn’t seem to care. She sells T-shirts that say “PERMANENTLY BANNED,” poking fun at Trump’s threat that Haley’s supporters will be “permanently banned from the MAGA camp.” She openly acknowledges that she no longer wants to be Trump’s vice president. And she’s refusing to drop out of the race, inviting more and more of Trump’s anger with each passing day.

On Saturday, Haley will likely be served a big defeat in her home state. She’s vowed to keep going, making visits to Utah and other Super Tuesday states next week. By then, her campaign will need to take a new, more urgent tone. Will her message change again? I’ll let you know.

Weekend reads

Tim Scott’s short-lived presidential campaign was built on faith, optimism and character. “What I learned on the campaign trail was people do want that,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “but they really want a bull in a china shop for a little while first.” So, he dropped out and endorsed Trump. A sharp look at Scott’s path to MAGA, where he is now in striking distance of being Trump’s VP pick: How Tim Scott Went From ‘Faith in America’ to Leading Role in Trumpworld (Eliza Collins, The Wall Street Journal)

MyPillow, your money: Mike Lindell, founder of MyPillow, offered $5 million to anyone who could dispute his claims that the 2020 election was stolen. A 64-year-old Nevada man did so, and a federal judge ruled this week that Lindell has to pay up. Mike Lindell must pay man $5M in ‘Prove Mike Wrong’ challenge, judge says (Praveena Somasundaram, The Washington Post)

Yes, Biden is old, but that might not be a winning message for Republicans. This GOP strategist argues that presidents are far more likely to die of old age while in office than they are to lose a campaign because of it — and that should encourage Republicans to find a different attack against Biden’s record. Why Republicans Are Making a Big Mistake on Biden’s Age (Alex Conant, POLITICO Magazine)

Friday mailbag

Today’s question comes from reader Kyle W.:

Caucuses? I love that Gov. Herbert opposes them. Because frankly, I am baffled by them. Why do we have them? How is it that a delegate gets to represent my vote? How is an open meeting where candidates and ideas are discussed a representation of my vote? What if my opinion and vote differ from those who are most vocal? What if I feel intimidated by the vocal opinions? How is this democracy?

A lengthy question, and I’ll answer as concisely as I can.

Proponents of the caucus system argue that it is the best form of democracy. It encourages neighbors to gather in an organized forum, discuss issues and candidates, and cast votes together. Any registered Republican can participate, and if you can’t make it, you can drop off a pre-printed ballot in advance or send it with a registered voter on caucus night. Every attendee votes, and at the end of the night, those votes will determine the winner of Utah’s “presidential preference poll.”

“It’s an opportunity to show up and be heard,” Utah Republican chair Rob Axson told me.

Utah has held caucuses for years. Opposition to the caucus system has gone on for nearly as long. Kyle mentions ex-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who’s been an outspoken critic of the caucuses. Those who oppose the caucus system often say that it lowers turnout; compared to primary elections, that is statistically true. They often say it brings out more extreme voters; the political science literature seems to back that up, too.

So, why caucus? Tradition is part of it, as is the belief that it increases voter engagement. But Kyle brings up some good points — not everyone feels comfortable discussing their political views with others, and may feel intimidated. There are mechanisms to negate this, caucus proponents would say, like offering options for absentee voting. But those mechanisms don’t do much if voters are too confused to know how to vote in the first place.

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.