The US Republican primary in South Carolina will decide whether Trump's last real opponent will remain in the race. A visit to the base.

Two women stand in front of a blue campaign bus and point to promotional materials for Nikki Haley.

Trudy Walker (left) looks like a Democrat but is campaigning for Nikki Haley. Photo: Marina Klimchuk

CHARLESTON (SOUTH CAROLINA) taz | “Let's welcome the next president of the United States, Nikki Haley!” Boom boom boom, “I love rock and roll, so put another penny in the jukebox, baby!” It's 6:25 pm, the last weak rays of light disappear. towards twilight there. Nikki Haley takes the stage majestically in her turquoise wool coat.

“They call us South Carolina, Beast of the Southeast,” he shouts into the microphone. The crowd goes crazy, excited screams echoing in the darkness. Stickers, banners, brochures, thousands of mini-Nikkis. In the background, the American flags wave so violently, as if they too were applauding. “Let's do it!”, “God bless you!”, “Trump is the Antichrist!”

A little girl with a colossal pink bow in her blonde hair pushes her way through the crowd, another sits on her father's shoulders and holds a pink sign that says “Women for Nikki.” A man who was simply gossiping about Trump now yells, “Nikki Nikki Nikki!” What follows is 33 minutes of flawlessness. Then handshakes, selfies, smiles for the press, vibes from the fans like at a Taylor Swift concert.

On this frigid February afternoon in Charleston, 1,200 people are swept up in a parallel reality that seems more unlikely every day: one in which the next president of the United States is celebrated on stage. The next, potentially decisive primary election for the Republican presidential nomination will take place on February 24 in the US state of South Carolina.

Who are the Americans who continue to support this woman who, despite all odds, does not want to give up the fight for the most important office in the world? Why are they going to this rally? Against what?

Right, young, female, of Indian descent.

Haley says she wants America to be normal again. Could this be the beginning of a revolution with the stated goal of leading America out of polarization? Or is an electoral event like this an outlet from which one's despair can escape for a moment? Desperation for everything that weighs on the moderate Republican soul these months?

Maybe it's a little of both. The only thing certain is that political content is not a priority here. Whoever is here wishes: peace, joy, pancakes. A less unpleasant and less hateful America.

Haley brings a lot of what the Republican Party needs. She is right-wing (pro-low taxes, anti-abortion), young (52 years old), her parents are from India and she is a woman. She was governor of South Carolina for the second time when Trump appointed her US ambassador to the UN in 2017. If you believe people here, she was a good governor and was respected.

Everyone present at the election event contributes their own anecdote about Nikki. But is that enough? Trump won the first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Haley also suffered an embarrassing defeat in Nevada last Tuesday: with 32 percent, she received fewer votes than the “none of these candidates” option, for which 61 percent voted. percent. Trump's name was not on the list. The so-called caucus, which Trump won, continued on Thursday. Unlike the primary with Haley, the caucus focused on delegate votes. And in her home state, Haley is trailing Trump in opinion polls.

“I don't vote for party, but for people”

3:30 p.m., two and a half hours until the event begins. In the brick building of the “New Realm Brewing” brewery near Charleston, waitresses pour the first beers. The first buffalo chicken wings are prepared in the kitchen and there is “Beer Food Live Music” outside. Twelve people have gathered outside, volunteer campaign workers, gossiping about Donald Trump in a semicircle. Then a plump young man in an olive green sweater raises the microphone to his mouth and gives them instructions on the logistics of the evening.

Rick, 82, believes Nikki can bring the torn country back together

There's Trudy, 64 years old. Blonde hair, calm voice, warm smile. She is wearing a dark blue T-shirt that says “Nikki Haley for President.” Trudy's job is to carry heavy boxes full of t-shirts like this from the car to the booth. She suddenly stops and says, visibly happy to have met us: “We can speak German. I studied in Marburg.” That was in 1980, and there she was infected by the political enthusiasm of German students.

Everything you then describe could also come from a Democratic Party platform. Trudy wants to invest in education, legalize abortion, introduce health insurance, fight poverty, prevent Donald Trump and show responsibility towards the Palestinian civilian population. The fact that Nikki Haley, along with Trump, secured the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 and almost completely canceled aid payments to Palestine, appears to have gone over Trudy's radar.

What do you like about Nikki Haley? “I am a feminist. I don't vote for party, but for people. She was a good governor. She boosted our economy and brought companies like Volvo to South Carolina.”

Those attending the rally are already convinced

Then there is Martí, 73, who came from Florida especially for Nikki. He travels with his 18-year-old dog following his idol around the country; They have also been together in New Hampshire despite Martí's heart problems. There is a sticker that says “I choose Nikki” stuck on the dog's fur. Martí sees Haley as a kind of spiritual leader who will bring peace to the world with her feminine energy.

Rick, 82, a retired lawyer, is crisscrossing the United States on a “Walking to Fix Democracy” tour starting in 2022, walking from California to Washington. On occasions he had to interrupt the trip to take care of his wife, who suffered from cancer and died a few months ago. He believes Nikki can bring the torn country back together.

The United States is mixed, urban and young. More than half of the population is non-white. But there are few signs of that in this Republican-leaning district in north Charleston. And although Haley makes appearances like this almost every day these days, shaking an average of 300 hands a day, relatively few people are politically active compared to the general population. Those who are there – the worried, the angry, the enthusiastic and the excited – are already convinced anyway.

5:30 pm. Little by little the brewery fills with mugs of beer and conversations. Families with children are milling around, a little bit like a carnival, a little bit bashing Trump. A mother says she is tired and doesn't want to talk. The boy tells us his funniest moment on the campaign trail: when eliminated Republican candidate Chris Christie called Donald Trump “Donald Duck.” The child laughs loudly, the mother presses her bright red lips and smiles bitterly.

Haley promises tougher line on immigration

There are finally some young faces floating around. A handful of black people like Republican activist Christen, 27, who is interviewed by the conservative television network Fox News and constantly laughs at the thrill of being on television. “I'm pro-Israel,” she says as cheerfully as if we were talking about a horse race and not a war. Her friend, who wears a cowboy hat and wants to vote for Donald Trump, nods.

Or Christopher, 43, who came with his pregnant partner to defend Donald Trump's democracy. He wears a navy blue Duke cap: the elite North Carolina university where he studied law years ago. Today, Christopher is an immigration attorney. “Our asylum system is fundamentally broken,” he says. That's why he chooses Nikki, who promises a tougher line on immigration.

And Nikki herself? She seems to want to please everyone in the 33 minutes of it. Sometimes it sounds like Sahra Wagenknecht (“50 percent of Americans can't afford diapers, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer”), other times it sounds more like the AfD (“They want to impose on us Syrians). In South Carolina, we fought back.” ), she spews out a dizzying array of statistics and casually twists facts (“Hamas and Iran invaded Israel”).

In the end she is conciliatory: “Don't you want to live in a country where we can talk to each other again?” Applause. Who doesn't want that?