Will SC Republicans go rogue again this year?

In January 2012, I was invited to speak to the Senate Presidents’ Forum, a national gathering of state senate leaders, in Key West. I was on a panel with several others who were there to talk about that year’s presidential politics. They had the legendary David Yepsen from Iowa, and I was the putative South Carolina “expert.” This was just days before our GOP presidential primary.

But this was a situation in which experience and expertise counted for little, as the usual dynamics weren’t doing what they usually do.

The textbook answer on South Carolina, based on all the primaries I had covered back into the ’80s, was that the establishment candidate would win here. Oh, our Republicans might flirt with bomb-throwers from the fringe, but in the end they’d settle down and choose the safe, conservative (in the real sense of the word, not the bizarre ways that it’s flung about these days) candidate.

Which that year meant Mitt Romney. He was the perfect country-club Republican, and it was his turn.

But ever since 2010 — really, ever since the defeat of 2008 — the party had been going a little nuts, and wasn’t acting itself. The SC GOP of old would, for instance, have gone with Henry McMaster or maybe Gresham Barrett, for governor. But the Tea Party swept Nikki Haley in from the back of the pack. Yeah, the Tea Party was a national phenomenon, but if there’s some crazy going on, white South Carolinians have a history of wanting to get out in front of it — a history that reached much farther back than its history as an endorser of establishment Republicans.

But surely SC Republicans would settle down on their presidential preference, cherishing their role as the ones who point the rest of the country toward the strongest, safest choice. Well… maybe. But I saw some poll numbers that worried me. And I saw lists of solid establishment Republicans getting behind Newt Gingrich.

This worried me, a lot. I made phone calls from my hotel room in Key West to some key Republicans to try to gauge just how hard that wind was blowing.

In the end, I told the assembled state senators that if you forced me to make a prediction, I’d still say that South Carolina would be South Carolina and go with Romney — but that there were indications that it could be Gingrich.

Of course, it was Gingrich. South Carolina Republicans threw away the rule book. And the Senate Presidents’ Forum hasn’t asked me back to any of its confabs, possibly because I got it wrong. I keep telling y’all, you can’t trust political parties. They really shafted me on that one (and the governor, too — some of those establishment Republicans who went with Gingrich did so, at least in part, to undermine Nikki Haley, who was backing Romney).

Anyway, I was reading this piece in The Washington Post this morning, talking about how you can’t go by history to predict Rick Santorum’s chances this year:

Here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to figuring out who will get the Republican presidential nomination: The guy who didn’t get it the last time will get it the next time. Ronald Reagan lost the nomination to President Gerald Ford in 1976 and won it in 1980. George H. W. Bush lost it to Reagan in 1980 and won it in 1988. Sen. Bob Dole lost it 1988 and won it in 1996. Then there was a break. In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the nomination against Sen. John McCain, who then won it in 2008. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lost it in 2008 and won it in 2012.

And that brings me to Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania won 11 states in the 2012 nomination contest, “coming in a respectable second in the GOP presidential primary season,” as The Post’s Karen Tumultyreported late last year. Santorum is so far back in the very crowded 2016 Republican field that he doesn’t even register on the latest Quinnipiac poll. But that doesn’t mean anything at this point. McCain’s campaign was on life support in July 2007. By March 2008, he clinched the nomination

In other words, you can no longer rely on Republicans to do the traditional thing. Although you never know; maybe they’ll surprise you and do so.

And of course this gets me to wondering what SC Republicans will do this time. Who can say? This time, there are more wild cards than usual.

If this were 1988, or 1996, or 2000, or even 2008, Jeb Bush would be the winner of the SC Republican presidential primary, hand down. But not only is the party way less predictable now than it was then, there’s an extra complication: Lindsey Graham.

It’s very difficult to predict. Lindsey Graham is the Republican whom Republicans love to hate — particularly those of the newer, fringe variety. That’s why he often fails to get a warm reception at party functions, and also why he had so many primary opponents last year. But then, he walked all over those primary opponents, and on to easy re-election.

I’m not saying he wins the primary here. There’s an outside chance that he could, but at this point I’m saying he doesn’t. He doesn’t get crushed, either — he places, if he’s still in the mix at that point.

What Graham definitely does, though, is complicate things. For instance, he’s got some of the establishment types who might normally go for a Bush backing our senior senator instead — David Wilkins, for one. He also has some of the McCain organization working for him, such as Richard Quinn. (For a list of people helping the Graham campaign, click here.)

Meanwhile, we see another establishment type — Warren Tompkins — at the core of a strong Marco Rubio organization in our state. Another complication.

Set that against the fact that South Carolina Republicans have this thing for Bushes, and the fact they went last time for a guy who at this point no one would have predicted, and no one knows what’s going to happen here come February.

64 thoughts on “Will SC Republicans go rogue again this year?

  1. Brad Warthen

    Gosh, I thought y’all were ripe for a discussion about the upcoming primary. I felt like I was way remiss in not having posted something on the subject.

    Guess I misread the situation…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Having said that, if the SC GOP primary was held today, I don’t think Jeb Bush would win. My way, way, way too early prediction is:

      1. Rubio/Walker
      2. Bush
      3. Graham
      4-whatever. Everyone else

      I just don’t see/feel any energy for Bush or Graham within the GOP base. I could be totally wrong, though. That does happen from time to time, as my wife can tell you.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Between Rubio and Walker, I’m thinking Rubio does better, based on what I know about his organization. Of course, I know nothing yet about Walker’s organization in the state. It could be a fantastic stealth campaign.

        But yeah, it’s way early. When you think back to 2012, when every week had a different front-runner until finally Republicans settled on the guy they were destined to settle on all along, it’s impossible to predict.

        But again, if you force me, I say that when the shouting is over, Bush is the nominee. Even though he seems to be floundering a bit at the moment.

        That’s not the same as knowing what SC is going to do, though. It would have been before 2012, but not now. I fear Mark is right that we could lose our first-in-the-South status. And I say “fear” because I enjoy having the candidates troop through. It’s nice to get a good look at them…

        1. Mark Stewart

          I want to see whether Rubio is going to throttle back his more recent TEA party shilling or whether he is going to move to the center (vis a vis the GOP pack) to challenge Jeb Bush.

          I like the Presidential primaries because they are the only time in politics where the strategic long game ever rises to the fore. The rest of the time pols just run around spewing pander and sop about whatever “issue” is on fire that day. Hopefully, the absurdity of trying to run a primary campaign in one direction which is then followed by massive back-peddling to get into general election shape has been wholly discredited. The strategic play is to be the leader (as in the one demonstrating Presidential leadership) from day one and own that ground with consistency from end to end. I’m sure that it is much harder than I have described it; but it has to be easier than the whip-sawing the GOP operatives have reveled in.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      I’m just trying to stick my fingers in my ears and go la la la until it’s over. I wish my vote mattered, but it doesn’t, except in principle. My opinion matters even less.

  2. Karen Pearson

    This state will probably be deeply conflicted over voting for Rand Paul or Santorum. Rand Paul is a libertarian who will shrink government (until there’s no one left but him and the military) and did take a stance against the gummint spying on us. But he’s not ready to ready to annihilate the whole middle east (unless it’s necessary to do a pre-emptive strike for Israel’s sake–he’s hawkish there). And I’m not sure of his standing with God. Santorum is conservative, but not a libertarian. He won’t shrink government enough to suit most. But he’s a good Christian, and therefore bound to be in good standing with God (and if you don’t believe me ask him or Him). He’s against homosexuality and Islam, and most anyone on welfare. It’s a hard choice.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      We like our military here in SC, so Rand Paul has an uphill battle, imho. Not enough people read deeply enough to understand the electronic spying thing.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      Rand Paul won’t crack the top 3 in SC, and I’d be surprised if Santorum exceeded 1%.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think Bryan’s right. Neither will do all that well here. But again, it’s soon to tell.

      Karen reminds me of why the Christian conservatives are often my favorite type. The Mark Sanford-style libertarians HATE them, which of course endears them to me. The Club for Growth especially hates Mike Huckabee… because Huckabee believes in government, which is to say, he believes in civilization.

  3. Mark Stewart

    The problem with your explanation is that you are projecting that there is such a thing as a Republican party in SC these days. I would argue that there is not even a party comprised of identifiable “blocks” anymore. “Conservative” has come to mean radical-nihilist-hypocrite within the SCGOP.

    If you started with the presumption that what we have instead is a mass of populist pandering you’re probably on the way to concluding that this is most likely to be SC’s last First in the South contest.

  4. Bart

    If the Republican and Democrat candidates have a debate in South Carolina, will Judy Collins sing “Send in the Clowns”, before the events start?

  5. Karen Pearson

    I dunno, but I hear an awful lot of libertarianism, and when I’m not hearing that I’m hearing a form of Christian conservatism that wants to either convert or kill the Muslims, and likes to quote Paul, “if they will not work they shall not eat.” Neither side seems to be interested in reading deeply.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Convert or be killed?

        Uh, that’s that the ISIS guys are doing. Methinks you may be confused.

      2. Karen Pearson

        Ok. There are a fair number of people saying, or blogging, or posting on facebook that Islam is an irredeemably violent faith, and that they are all going to hell. Many of the people saying these things are convinced that we should be trying to save them by converting them to Christianity. Others are convinced that not only is Islam violent, but that all Muslims are violent and out to kill us. And no, I don’t have specific quotes. I hear this stuff mostly in passing, or see it on blogs or facebook and promptly scroll past on the grounds that if I read it too closely I might respond to it in a way that is likely to upset the person writing it without changing their mind. When I’ve tried previously the answers have been at the very least unkind as well as unreasoned.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Although I will agree with you that I recoil from the attitude you are summarizing with, “if they will not work they shall not eat.”

      Although I don’t REALLY disagree, technically, with that quote. If someone WILL not work — as opposed to being physically or mentally or emotionally incapable of working — I’m not crazy about devoting a lot of resources to helping them. And I also understand Paul’s context. That generation of Christians had tried the “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” approach with the Church in Jerusalem. And they did end up with a lot of bad-faith freeloading going on, if I recall correctly from Acts.

      But here’s what separates me from the more indignant form of modern “conservative:” I believe the “WILL not work” type is relatively rare. And I’m willing to have a nice, wide safety net for those who need it, and I’m not going to sit up nights worrying that some “undeserving” types might get some benefit from it.

      That’s a mentality I’ve never been able to grok — the people who waste time and energy worrying that SOMEBODY out there is GETTING SOMETHING that they don’t deserve. (Something we see across the political spectrum, from “conservatives” who are livid at the idea that an illegal alien MIGHT receive a government service, to the Elizabeth Warren types who are just beside themselves that CEOs make so much money.) Lighten up, people…

        1. Doug Ross

          Are you saying they aren’t? Are you prevented from giving more of your money to THOSE people without passing it through the government?

          The safety net doesn’t need to be a hammock.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            The thing is that the amounts I can give are pissing in the ocean. That’s why we have to pry more from your cold hands….

      1. Karen Pearson

        Yes, I understand Paul’s context just as you do. I just don’t think that many of the people who use it to justify reducing or eliminating our safety net know the original context, and I’m not sure they care.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    Hey, did y’all catch the correction in today’s paper about the stupid quiz based on Lindsey Graham’s candidacy. Apparently TWO questions’ answers were wrong! Good grief, they can’t even do cheesy filler right any more!

  7. Bryan Caskey

    I’m fired up about Lincoln Chafee’s bid for the Democratic nomination, and has decided that his big issue is going to be…wait for it…having the USA adopt the metric system!

    You can have my imperial system of measurements when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    1. Doug Ross

      People laugh at the Republican field of candidates but when you compare them to the Democrats who have announced, they look a whole lot better. Chafee is just a strange bird. Sanders is a socialist. O’Malley has zero name recognition. And Hillary’s best days were twenty years ago.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Metric is not that hard to convert to. You just buy a 2 liter bottle instead of half a gallon, a half kilo instead of a pound, etc….

        1. Bryan Caskey

          I’m such a fan of the imperial system my speedometer is measured in furlongs per fortnight.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        There are two kinds of countries:

        1. Countries with the metric system.
        2. Countries that have put a man on the moon.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’m with Bryan on this. And with the old prole in 1984:

        ‘I arst you civil enough, didn’t I?’ said the old man, straightening his shoulders pugnaciously. ‘You telling me you ain’t got a pint mug in the ‘ole bleeding boozer?’

        ‘And what in hell’s name is a pint?’ said the barman, leaning forward with the tips of his fingers on the counter.

        ‘Ark at ‘im! Calls ‘isself a barman and don’t know what a pint is! Why, a pint’s the ‘alf of a quart, and there’s four quarts to the gallon. ‘Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.’

        ‘Never heard of ’em,’ said the barman shortly. ‘Litre and half litre — that’s all we serve. There’s the glasses on the shelf in front of you.

        ‘I likes a pint,’ persisted the old man. ‘You could ‘a drawed me off a pint easy enough. We didn’t ‘ave these bleeding litres when I was a young man.’

        ‘When you were a young man we were all living in the treetops,’ said the barman, with a glance at the other customers.

        There was a shout of laughter, and the uneasiness caused by Winston’s entry seemed to disappear. The old man’s whitestubbled face had flushed pink. He turned away, muttering to himself, and bumped into Winston. Winston caught him gently by the arm.

        ‘May I offer you a drink?’ he said.

        ‘You’re a gent,’ said the other, straightening his shoulders again. He appeared not to have noticed Winston’s blue overalls. ‘Pint!’ he added aggressively to the barman. ‘Pint of wallop.’

        The barman swished two half-litres of dark-brown beer into thick glasses which he had rinsed in a bucket under the counter. Beer was the only drink you could get in prole pubs. The proles were supposed not to drink gin, though in practice they could get hold of it easily enough. The game of darts was in full swing again, and the knot of men at the bar had begun talking about lottery tickets. Winston’s presence was forgotten for a moment. There was a deal table under the window where he and the old man could talk without fear of being overheard. It was horribly dangerous, but at any rate there was no telescreen in the room, a point he had made sure of as soon as he came in.

        “E could ‘a drawed me off a pint,’ grumbled the old man as he settled down behind a glass. ‘A ‘alf litre ain’t enough. It don’t satisfy. And a ‘ole litre’s too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price.’…

              1. Doug Ross

                Is there a certain place you go to to get your injection of liberal thought words? It’s interesting to observe how certain themes and messages get disseminated in each party.

                The new liberal buzzwords are privilege and triggering… as in “Brad’s privileged background prevents him from understanding that his posts about Winston Churchill may cause triggering events for children of WWII veterans.”

              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                Best column so far on “triggering:” Peggy Noonan’s from this past weekend

                An excerpt:

                Yet theirs is a significant and growing form of idiocy that deserves greater response.

                The authors describe a student in a class discussion of Ovid’s epic poem “Metamorphoses.” The class read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, which, as parts of a narrative that stretches from the dawn of time to the Rome of Caesar, include depictions of violence, chaos, sexual assault and rape. The student, the authors reported, is herself “a survivor of sexual assault” and said she was “triggered.” She complained the professor focused “on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text.” He did not apparently notice her feelings, or their urgency. As a result, “the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class.”

                Safe is the key word here. There’s the suggestion that a work may be a masterpiece but if it makes anyone feel bad, it’s out.

                Later the student told the professor how she felt, and her concerns, she said, were ignored. The authors of the op-ed note that “Metamorphoses” is a fixture in the study of literature and humanities, “but like so many texts in the Western canon it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom.” The Western canon, they continue, is full of “histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression” that can be “difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

                That makes them feel unsafe: “Students need to feel safe in the classroom, and that requires a learning environment that recognizes the multiplicity of their identities.” The authors suggest changing the core curriculum but concede it may not be easy. Another student, they report, suggested in her class that maybe instead they could read “a Toni Morrison text.” A different student responded that “texts by authors of the African Diaspora are a staple in most high school English classes, and therefore they did not need to reread them.” That remark, the authors assert, was not only “insensitive” but “revealing of larger ideological divides.” The professor, they report, failed at this moment to “intervene.”…

                Yes, it’s obvious that there is a class these people go to in order to learn these horrifically awkward, inelegant, nails-on-a-blackboard phrases.

              3. Kathryn Fenner

                Brad’s background doesn’t necessarily prevent him from doing anything. It’s his *unwillingness* to recognize that he may see things differently b/c of his background.
                There are none so blind as those who would not see.
                Certain others on the blog are also white men of a certain socioeconomic background, but they “get” it.
                —and I was joking on the last comment, fwiw.

              4. Doug Ross

                Please do not write any posts about hair loss, getting rejected by a girl for Junior Prom, losing school board elections, or drinking a full growler of Conquest Brewery’s double IPA. Any of those could result in horrible triggering flashbacks for me that might render me incapacitated.

              5. Brad Warthen Post author

                I see what you want me to see, and I see past it. I see the ideology that produces phrases such as “privilege blind” as two-dimensional. And for my part, I believe you, too, are able to see in three dimensions. But you prefer to impose these narrow, flat paradigms on me.

                I have life experiences that are quite broad, unusually so compared to most people of ANY color or gender or what have you in South Carolina. My life experience is — as I have written — more like that of Barack Obama than like that of someone who has been brought up in one culture, one place, one language, one demographic group.

                To assume I can’t see things to a great extent the way he does because neither of my parents was African is a particularly facile sort of assumption based on race. (Frankly, I suspect the fact that my parents raised me together and are still married and alive separates me from him more than skin color.)

                I know it’s trite, and I’ve cited it many times before, but it’s a clear analogy that applies. So I refer you again to Vonnegut’s concepts of “granfalloon” and “karass.” I’ve observed enough about human nature in my life to see that these things to which we attach so much importance — race, gender, sexuality — are often far less indicative of who we are or what unites and separates us than are other life experiences and habits of thought.

                And that does indeed make me contemptuous of constructions that have me being “privileged” because of the most superficial of characteristics. That causes me to harrumph and use my Lord Haw-Haw voice because I see the notion as so absurd…

          1. Norm Ivey

            Funny, and it perfectly illustrates the problem with trying to go metric in this country. We want to convert our measures to metric rather than simply think metric. Brad’s excerpt from 1984 illustrates the same thing (a pint is almost exactly .5 liter, by the way). I need at least pencil and paper to figure there are 63360 inches in a mile. I can figure there are 100,000 centimeters in a kilometer in my head, and do it quickly.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, I did the math on Orwell once myself, and came away convinced that the old guy just had a psychological prejudice toward the pint…

              Speaking of which… in England, my “pints” came in an assortment of different-shaped glasses, and I could have sworn that some of them had a volume at least 50 percent greater than some others. But there was no way to confirm it, so I may have been just as deluded as the old prole.

              1. Mark Stewart

                Most “pint” glasses are 12-14 oz’s now, max. It’s rare to find a true 16 oz glass in any kind of establishment.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Mark, Yesterday’s has a sign up certifying they’re a “true pint” establishment, which I fully believe. My daughter was a bartender there for years. Also, they were a longtime advertiser here on the blog.

                  If Duncan and Scottie say it’s a pint, it’s a pint…

              2. Mark Stewart

                I think my general point is proved by their sign.

                And good for them! It’s been a while; sounds like they deserve my business soon.

          1. Norm Ivey

            If I need to divide the length of a meter by 3, I know that it’s 333.33 meters. If I am splitting my liter of beer three ways, we each get 333 cubic centimeters. No pencil. No paper. No calculator. No fractions.

            1. Norm Ivey

              Sorry–divide a KILOMETER by 3 to get 333.33 meters. Dividing a meter by 3 gives you 33.3 centimeters.

              1. Mark Stewart

                It gives me decimal angst.

                Seriously, we should switch to metric for the science of it; it’s just that the language of the Imperial system is warm and fuzzy when we use it in the abstract.

              2. Kathryn Fenner

                Well a foot is about a foot’s length, for example, and an inch is about the length of your index fingertip, so some measures are useful.

  8. Karen Pearson

    Bryan, we certainly put a man on the moon, and I’m very sure the scientists who did the calculations to manage the trip, from fuel load to trajectory used the metric system to do so.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      First of all, it was a joke.

      However, I wouldn’t be too sure of yourself there. According to this article, even the more recent space shuttle was designed using standard measurements:

      “The Shuttle and US segments of the ISS were built using the English system of measurements,” says NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma. “And much of the Ares launch vehicle and Kennedy Space Center ground systems are legacy hardware built in the English system, too.”

      Also, from my recollection of the movie Apollo 13, all the guys in Houston, Kennedy, and the astronauts talked about “nautical miles” “feet per second”, and other standard measurements. I don’t seem to recall anyone talking about anything in terms of meters.

      So…movie trump card.

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