Last night before the results were in, a friend shared with me this Facebook update from John Dickerson of CBS and Slate:
If Mark Sanford wins tonight it will mark a real evolution for South Carolina as a state where values voters play a big role. Sanford, Gingrich’s win in the SC GOP primary. This is not the state where George Bush spoke at Bob Jones in 2000.
No, no, no. Apples and oranges. As I responded:
It’s the Lowcountry. Stuff like that never mattered as much in the Lowcountry. Bob Jones is in the part of the state where they think Charlestonians are all heathens.
I could have added, “drinking, swearing, gambling, fornicating heathens,” but it was a text, so I kept it short.
The Calvinist/fundamentalist part of the state, where Bob Jones is, is the Upstate. It’s like confusing Maine and Florida, only on a smaller scale. Charleston is where the hell-raisers live, and let live. It has always been thus.
Mr. Dickerson compounded his error with a piece in Slate this morning headlined, “Paris, South Carolina:”
South Carolina conservatives may still say a candidate’s sins matter, but they aren’t voting that way. In fact, if you weren’t privy to the state’s strong social conservative history, you could almost mistake South Carolinians for city folk—people who vote for experience, policy, and political leanings and show a sophisticate’s relativism toward personal moral failings. These days, South Carolinians seem almost Parisian when they enter the voting booth.
It’s a clever angle. And accurate, in that Charleston is, indeed the Paris of South Carolina. The difference is that South Carolina isn’t France.
It’s true that the values voters don’t have the impact statewide that they did back in the early 90s. The two strains of libertarianism (economic, not cultural) — the Club for Growth types who love Sanford, and the more populist Tea Party types who love Nikki Haley — have crowded them out to a great extent.
But they’re still here. And just because Sanford won in the Lowcountry doesn’t mean their influence isn’t still felt. Maybe he would have won in another part of the state. But winning down there doesn’t prove it.
The Gingrich angle that Dickerson brings up is indeed intriguing. But I don’t think that’s a good example. South Carolinians had a fit and broke with their history of choosing the eventual nominee because Gingrich at that moment was coming across as the guy who most wanted to rip out Barack Obama’s throat with his teeth. It was a weird moment. He appealed to something dark and visceral and atavistic in the SC electorate, something that for me hearkened back to Tillmanism. There was that, and the fact that a lot of establishment Republicans didn’t want Nikki Haley’s candidate to win.
I don’t think the two instances mark a trend away from family values. But yeah, Charleston is Paris if you like…