Donald Trump’s political obituary has been written many times. His dominant performance in the Super Tuesday Republican primaries marks one more instance of him outlasting those who counted him out.

While Trump has yet to officially clinch the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential contest, his near-sweep of the Super Tuesday primaries indicates there’s no further electoral pathway for Nikki Haley, his last remaining GOP challenger.

Since Trump first ran for the presidency in 2015, there have been many moments that could have ended his political career, including:

  • the 2016 release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he appeared to brag about sexually assaulting women
  • his antagonism towards war hero John McCain in 2015 and the families of slain American soldiers and disabled veterans
  • his comments after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 when he said there were “very fine people” among a group of white supremacists
  • his first impeachment in 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress
  • his handling of the COVID pandemic, which killed 400,000 Americans while he was in office
  • and his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, which led, most notably, to charges that he incited the January 6 Capitol insurrection – and his second impeachment.

The latter stands out, in particular, because many observers thought Trump’s political career was over after January 6, 2021. This was particularly true for Republican elites who may have publicly praised Trump while he was in office, but privately longed for his departure from public life.

Even one of the shrewdest congressional leaders of the last century, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, could not foresee the ironclad grasp that Trump would maintain over the Republican Party for nearly a decade.

Indeed, McConnell and other Republicans lambasted Trump after the 2021 insurrection, but ultimately decided not to vote to convict him in the second impeachment trial over his conduct on January 6. The reason: they assumed Trump’s departure from politics was a foregone conclusion.

A vote to convict him, Republicans appear to have concluded, would not only be redundant because Trump was never expected to return to prominence, but would also cause unnecessary damage to their own political careers.

Why Trump is winning the GOP nomination again

Trump’s departure from the White House in 2021 and time out of office brought yet another opportunity for his detractors to perform hasty last rites for his political prospects.

For example, many of the Republican candidates he endorsed in the 2022 midterm elections performed poorly, contributing to one of the GOP’s worst midterm performances in modern history.

This led many Republican and conservative elites to conclude that irrespective of any moral objections to Trump, he was an electoral loser who merited abandonment.

Many conservatives pivoted to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the heir apparent to the former president. Others pined for South Carolina Senator Tim Scott or Haley, a former UN ambassador and governor, as the next face of the Republican Party.

But ultimately none of these potential successors was able to garner anywhere close to the support of the former president. Haley’s lacklustre performance on Super Tuesday is one more clear piece of evidence of that.

Tellingly, nearly all of Trump’s GOP rivals in 2024 have – at one point or another – warmly endorsed him, denounced the criminal indictments against him, and even pledged to support his 2024 campaign regardless of whether he is convicted.

It should come as no surprise, then, that despite short periods of opposition to Trump – such as Haley’s increasingly direct attacks on his mental acuity and her shifting attitude on whether she will still endorse him – his approval among Republicans has never seriously wavered.

Very few GOP leaders have been willing to go on the record with their criticisms of him – and not walk it back later.

Indeed, since Trump’s election in 2016 through to today, his aggregate approval rating among Republicans has rarely dipped below 74% despite – or perhaps because – he is currently facing 91 separate criminal charges.

Views of Trump remain largely unchanged

As much as Trump’s platform and positions may have changed over the course of three presidential campaigns, there has been strikingly little difference in the candidate himself. To the chagrin of his detractors – and the delight of his supporters – his time in the White House did not change him.

And his time out of the White House does not appear to have changed him or the public’s view of him, either.

Trump’s opponents assumed scandals that would doom the political careers of conventional politicians would also doom him. On the contrary, the scandals have in many ways only emboldened Trump’s base. His famous mugshot was paraded by both Trump’s supporters (as evidence of what they believe is a politicised justice system) and his detractors (as evidence of what they believe is Trump’s criminal behaviour).

Trump is unlike any other politician in modern American history. His political resilience with GOP voters makes clear the country is in the midst of a historical change to party alignments. No longer will low taxes and business-friendly, Ronald Reagan-inspired policies work for Republican politicians.

Indeed it’s not clear that even policies themselves are what his supporters want as much as a fighter with whom they can identify. The Super Tuesday results show Haley is not that person to most Republicans.

Yet, while Trump’s supporters remain fiercely loyal, the Biden campaign is hoping the polarising former president activates the diverse “Never Trump” coalition even more.

Biden has famously said “don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative”. Biden is now hoping the alternative in the 2024 presidential election is a man who energises a base of “Never Trumpers” just big enough to tip the scale by a few thousands votes in swing states. Haley’s losses today increase that likelihood.