3 takeaways from the South Carolina primary and Trump's big win over Haley

Former President Donald Trump romped in South Carolina's GOP primary on Saturday, dealing Nikki Haley, the state's former governor, a particularly painful loss.

With more than 85% of the expected votes counted as of late Saturday, Trump took about 60% compared to Haley's 39%. Trump had been projected to win by double digits before the primary, based on 538's polling average, but the reality of the defeat marks a significant setback to any hopes Haley had of defying the odds and clinching her party's nomination.

"I know 40% is not 50%," she acknowledged in election night remarks while vowing to continue campaigning in other states.

Trump's win is sure to ramp up speculation that Haley should suspend her own bid. But as she did again on Saturday, she has repeatedly rejected efforts to push her out before Super Tuesday in early March, though her future after that remains much less clear, in her own words.

And Trump's victory -- as in the other early voting states for the nomination -- masked smaller but persistent problems with Republican voters outside his base who could be important in a general election.

Here are three takeaways from South Carolina's results.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump attends a primary election night party with Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 24, 2024.  (Andrew Harnik/AP)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump attends a primary election night party with Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 24, 2024. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trump hands Haley a stinging defeat

Trump has already defeated Haley in Iowa and New Hampshire, while Haley also lost to "none of the above" in Nevada's primary, which Trump sat out in favor of winning the state's caucuses.

But his win in Haley's home state by such a big margin underscores how unsuccessful she was in winning over fellow South Carolinians after months of predicting a a strong performance there.

MORE: Haley's crushing defeat in South Carolina shows she has no real path to catch Trump: ANALYSIS

Past home-state losses have proven to be death knells. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio suspended his 2016 presidential bid after Trump beat him in Florida.

The scale of Trump's win on Saturday was evident by the early projection of his victory, which came as soon as polls closed.

"That is really something this was a little sooner than we anticipated. It was an even bigger win than we anticipated," he said in his victory speech.

"There's never been a spirit like this," he added.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during her primary election night gathering at The Charleston Place, Feb. 24, 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during her primary election night gathering at The Charleston Place, Feb. 24, 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Where does Haley go from here?

Haley's path to catching Trump was already perilous before Saturday. It's even more so now.

New Hampshire, with its more independent-minded primary electorate, and South Carolina, her home state, were seen as offering the best -- if relatively unlikely -- chances for early primary wins after a distant third-place finish in Iowa's caucuses.

Instead, Haley has now lost to Trump by double digits in every one of their matchups.

The next major contests will be in Michigan, which is hosting a confusing primary on Tuesday and statewide convention on March 2. Sixteen delegates will be awarded in the primary, and 39 will be awarded in the convention. Non-Republican voters can participate in the primary -- a dynamic Haley has highlighted -- though only elected GOP delegates can partake in the convention.

After that, 36% of all delegates will be awarded on March 5, dubbed Super Tuesday, in which 15 states vote at once. Haley has said she could turn things around then -- but as ABC News Political Director Rick Klein noted, her poll numbers and the individual states' rules show she's not realistically targeting enough delegates on that day to catch up to Trump.

That means Haley will be subjected to increased pressure to suspend her campaign so that Republican voters and party officials can rally to Trump in the months before the general election. But she insisted Saturday she's not going anywhere.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during her primary election night gathering at The Charleston Place, Feb. 24, 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during her primary election night gathering at The Charleston Place, Feb. 24, 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

"There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative," she said after her loss.

"I'm a woman of my word. I'm not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. South Carolina has spoken. We're the fourth state to do so. In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak. They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice," she said.

However, she recently suggested that her future beyond March 5 is not certain.

"We're going to keep going all the way through Super Tuesday. That's as far as I've thought," she said earlier on Saturday.

Trump has ground to make up with some Republicans

South Carolina's results undoubtedly mark positive news for Trump. But that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement for the former president.

Illustrating the potential weight of his legal troubles, slightly more than a third of the state's Republican primary voters said Trump would be unfit for office if he is ultimately convicted on any of his 91 criminal charges, exit polling found. (He denies all wrongdoing.)

Haley also narrowly won moderates and ran well with independents and college graduates, all groups that have been electoral sore spots with Trump, while just 42% of primary voters identified themselves as "part of the MAGA movement."

MORE: As Trump warns that 'we're living in hell right now,' Biden team responds: 'Weird ramblings'

Still, Trump saw hefty advantages with other demographics, according to the exit polls.

Primary voters thought he was more electable in November than Haley by a 23-point margin, and more voters said he has the physical and mental health needed to serve effectively as president than Haley.

Overall, he also demonstrated more loyalty among his voters at the same time that the exit polls hinted at how he can motivate his critics.

Ninety-three percent of Trump voters said they mainly voted for their candidate, rather than against his opponent. Among Haley voters, 58% mainly supported her -- and 40% voted mainly to oppose Trump.

3 takeaways from the South Carolina primary and Trump's big win over Haley originally appeared on abcnews.go.com