First, let’s dispense with the mouse in the room when it comes to GOP politics in South Carolina. Former South Carolina governor, Congressman and Appalachian Trail adventurer Mark Sanford has suspended his primary challenge against President Trump for the Republican nomination. When informed of the decision, many South Carolina voters were unaware he was even running. They just did not get him in Iowa and did not care about him in New Hampshire. His own state will not even have a primary so he will not be on the ballot. He attracted dismal crowds who were more likely present because their phones indicated a character was nearby in their Pokemon Go game.
South Carolina politics can be mean and dirty. No one knows this more than the deceased John McCain who, in 2000, suffered the wrath of a whisper campaign at the hands of the Bush team. McCain never recovered from South Carolina and slithered back to the Senate emerging in 2008 only to go down into defeat at the hands of Obama. He then slinked back into the Senate again and became a thorn in the side of Trump in 2016 until his death.
This brings us to Lindsey Graham. Usually a reliable sidekick of the elder McCain, two events happened. The first, obviously, is the death of McCain. Freed of his influence, there was a subtle change in Graham’s attitude regarding Trump. Secondly, the lengths to which Democrats and their Leftist special interest groups went through to block the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh seems to be the one seminal event that made Graham finally realize what the GOP and Trump were up against. He may still be a promoter of exporting democracy abroad in countries with no idea of democracy and he still has neoconservative tendencies, but he has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest supporters. In a state where Trump beat Clinton by 14 points and where Trump remains popular overall, this move by Graham into the Trump orbit is a further sign that the South Carolina GOP is in the Trump camp and united for 2020.
Even still, there is some rumblings within the GOP that have not manifested themselves into outright rancor. For example, Scott Singer, who helped found the Aiken County Republican Club, has disassociated himself from the group saying he feels “homeless” in the GOP with Trump at the helm. He said, “There just doesn’t seem to be a lot in the Republican Party for a fiscal conservative, principle-based moderate.” Ah, yes…the old “principles before victory” mantra from the NeverTrump crowd. There have been other blips along the way. In 2018, a member of the GOP Charleston county executive committee tweeted out her support for Democrat Joe Cunningham who defeated Katie Arrington in the First District.
State party GOP chairman Drew McKissick has shrugged off such sentiments. He points to Trump’s 2016 victory and the fact a recent poll found that 82% of Republican-leaning voters supported Trump. He further noted that there are more volunteers, greater attendance at GOP meetings at all levels, and an increase in donations to Republicans. He also stated that Trump has re-engaged voters who formerly were independents.
One cannot totally discount the role of moderate legislators in South Carolina. This is most vividly illustrated in the recent battle over a fetal heartbeat abortion bill. A group of moderate Republicans recently managed to water down an abortion bill that originally removed exceptions for rape and incest. The threat to maternal life exception was in both versions of the bill. Republicans dominate the state senate and a bill without the exceptions failed last year. The moderates claim the exceptions are necessary to gain passage. Republican Governor Henry McMaster has said he would sign the bill with or without the exceptions. It was three Republicans on a state senate committee who allied themselves with six Democrats in refusing to advance the bill out of committee unless the exceptions were restored. Once restored, the committee then passed the bill along party lines, 9-6.
Yet even with the exceptions restored, some other moderate Republicans in the state senate have stated they wish the whole matter would go away. They do not want to fight Democrats over this issue in a major election year. They are proposing a wait-and-see position to determine if similar laws from other states pass court scrutiny before putting the bill on the senate calendar. Democrats have already vowed to fight the bill whenever it comes up for debate and in whatever form. In the politics of the abortion debate in South Carolina, it appears the Democrats are united while the GOP remains either afraid of the fight at worst, or fractured at best. On an issue as important as abortion and protecting human life, that is unfortunate.
There is no doubt that Democrats will fight come 2020 in South Carolina in the First District. Joe Cunningham is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress and there is a great chance to retake the seat come 2020 for the GOP. It is also obvious that South Carolina Democrats and the national Democratic Party apparatus is determined to fight tooth-and-nail to retain the seat. For example, an operative for the DCCC submitted papers to The Citadel seeking records on one Republican candidate, Nancy Mace. The letter requested her attendance and academic transcripts, performance evaluations, and disciplinary actions between 1996 and 1999. They went further by also requesting any emails, written correspondence and phone logs of any communication between Mace and the school in the same time period. If this is indicative of how the Democrats intend to play, then the GOP in South Carolina, no strangers to digging up dirt on opponents, need to repay in kind and then some.
It is obvious that the state GOP has rallied around Trump. The party voted to eliminate the primary and instead endorsed Trump. In some states, like New Hampshire, where there are serious reservations about President Trump within the GOP, they have refused to forego a primary. South Carolina joins Nevada and Kansas in their absolute support of Trump.
As for those disaffected “homeless” Republicans in South Carolina, they need to ask themselves an important question come 2020: Would a Warren or Biden presidency really be better or worse for South Carolina than another four years of President Trump?