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Donald Trump endorsed by SC Gov. Henry McMaster. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott still watching 2024

Election 2024 Trump

Former President Donald Trump waves after announcing he is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Andrew Harnik/AP

Hours after former President Donald Trump launched his third bid for the White House, Gov. Henry McMaster made it official: He's all in for Trump in 2024.

"Governor Henry McMaster has consistently supported President Trump and he will continue to do so," McMaster's spokesman Brian Symmes told The Post and Courier on Nov. 16.  

Asked if this amounted to an endorsement, he confirmed: "Yes it is."

The backing illustrates how Trump's announcement is already sending ripples through South Carolina, where it could affect the political futures of two of the state's most popular Republicans: former Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, both of whom are mulling potential bids.

A Haley spokeswoman did not respond to questions from The Post and Courier on Nov. 16, but in recent interviews, Haley has said she would make a decision about her next steps come January, even as she has said earlier she would not run if Trump gets in.

"After the first of the year, Michael and I will sit down and we'll figure out if there's a place for me. If there is a place for me, I've never lost a race. I'm not gonna start now. We'll put 1,000 percent in and we'll finish it," Haley told NBC News' Craig Melvin last month.

"If there's not a place for me, I have fought for this country as long as I can remember and I'll do it until my last breath," she added.

Haley's comments on her 2024 plans have evolved in the last year. In April 2021, she said in Orangeburg that she would not seek her party's presidential nomination if Trump decides to run again.

Scott, the Senate's only Black Republican, has increasingly found himself in the national spotlight in recent years: delivering the GOP response to Biden’s 2021 address to Congress, traveling the country as a top GOP surrogate in the 2022 midterms and publishing a political memoir about his hope for America — actions that often point to greater political aspirations.

Through his spokesman, Scott declined to comment at this time about Trump and the 2024 Republican presidential field.

But in October 2021, at the S.C. GOP's "First In The South Republican Action Conference" in Myrtle Beach, Scott said "of course" he would support Trump if he ran for president again in 2024.

When he celebrated his 2022 re-election win last week, Scott didn’t address what his political future holds, but he hinted at it when he told the story of how he took his grandfather Artis Ware to the polls in 2012. In that election, Scott's grandfather voted for both his grandson and Democrat Barack Obama — a ballot cast to reelect the first Black president.

"I wish he had lived long enough to see perhaps another man of color elected president of the United States,” Scott said, pausing as the crowd cheered. "But this time let it be a Republican."

South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who went from Trump critic to Trump confidant, responded to news of Trump's candidacy in a pair of tweets where he appeared to support Trump's policies but stopped short of endorsing Trump outright. 

"If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat," Graham wrote. "His speech tonight, contrasting his policies and results against the Biden Administration, charts a winning path for him in the primaries and general election."

Graham added that he hopes Trump will "focus on the solutions" outlined in his speech.

McMaster, who was one of Trump's earliest backers in 2016, was invited to Trump's Nov. 15 campaign launch event at Mar-A-Lago in Florida, but the governor was unable to attend due to conflicting schedules, his spokesman said.

Instead, McMaster was at the Republican Governors Association's annual meeting at a hotel in Orlando, Fla., located less than 200 miles away from the Mar-a-Lago resort where Trump announced his next presidential bid.

In addition to McMaster, other prominent South Carolina Republicans are lining up behind the former president as he prepares to mount another White House bid.

"Obviously I'm going to support the president," said Ed McMullen, Trump's ambassador to Switzerland and the chairman of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign in South Carolina.

"Anything the president needs, I will definitely — along with most of the team that was here in South Carolina — be eager to help him win the next race," McMullen added.

This summer, he surprised some Republicans in the Palmetto State when he attended a small fundraising dinner for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another prospective 2024 candidate, on the Isle of Palms.

Asked if he would like to see additional Republicans enter the race, McMullen replied: "I think the wonderful thing about the Republican Party is we have an extremely deep bench with extremely talented people. But I also think they are very smart."

He continued, "They know Donald Trump has a base that is very large, very strong, and in South Carolina, they are going to make sure he wins in South Carolina's primary."

Whether that is the case remains to be seen. Polling released Nov. 16 by Winthrop University found about half of South Carolina's Republican voters think Haley should run for president in 2024. 

But Trump's power emerged when respondents were asked who they would support if both Haley and Trump ran for the Republican nomination in 2024.

Some 45 percent of South Carolina GOP voters picked Trump, compared to 37 percent who picked Haley. An additional 10 percent said they would vote for "someone else" and 8 percent said they were unsure or refused to answer. 

McMullen said he counts Haley and Scott among the party's "deep bench" at the national level, but he also added, "There's a time and a place for everyone."

This weekend, both Scott and Haley will be among the featured speakers at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting in Las Vegas.

The event is shaping up to be a who's who of potential 2024 presidential candidates. Along with Haley and Scott, other speakers include DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Trump isn't in the speaker's lineup, making the event a high-profile test to see which of these Republicans decide to confront Trump and his official candidacy directly. 

South Carolina's influence in the GOP selection process already ranks high as home to the party's first Southern primary contest — states Trump won by double-digits in both 2020 and 2016.

Elsewhere, it was crickets from the social media accounts of South Carolina's six GOP congressional members, including U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, who is known for regularly sporting Trump socks.

Asked whether U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, would endorse Trump automatically, a spokesman for the congressman said the short answer is that he will "wait to see how the field shapes up, should others enter the contest."

"Rep. Norman is a strong believer that competition is a good thing, but we're just a week removed from the midterms," said Austin Livingston, Norman's deputy chief of staff and communications director. "Of all the rumored Republican contenders, it is entirely too early to know who will ultimately prove to be most suitable for the White House … two years from now."

Meanwhile, former 1st Congressional District candidate Katie Arrington, who drew Trump's endorsement in 2022 but lost the GOP nomination to incumbent GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, tweeted a photo of her and Trump together. "I stand with my president," it said.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-998-5404 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Senior Politics Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is the senior politics reporter at The Post and Courier. An award-winning reporter, Byrd previously worked as an enterprise reporter for The State newspaper, where she covered the Charleston region and South Carolina politics.

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