Crazy SC GOP is throwing it all away

Jeb Bush -- the guy who would normally win in South Carolina -- at a campaign event in Columbia in August.

Jeb Bush — the guy who would normally win in South Carolina — at a campaign event in Columbia in August.

South Carolinians who are not Republicans know their vote in the general election for president doesn’t count for much; our state’s electoral votes will go to the Republican.

But at least, thanks to our open primaries, we all get a say in which Republican is on the ballot in November. And since 1980, South Carolina has always picked the eventual winner, nudging the party toward a candidate who might get some of us independents, and maybe even a few Democrats, to vote for him.

That is, we always did until 2012. But that was a one-time fit of craziness, right?

Apparently not. And as much as I have dreaded saying it, The Washington Post has no such qualms. This story on today’s front page paints a portrait of a state that is throwing its national influence away:

Much like in Washington, where the abrupt withdrawal from the speaker’s race of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) signaled total party chaos, the view is fading that, eventually, this presidential contest will get back to normal.

Support for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who recently called South Carolina a “lock,” is at 5.7 percent here, according to theRealClearPolitics average. That’s good enough for only fifth place, 28 points behind front-runner Donald Trump and 12 behind former neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Four years ago, on his way to losing the state’s primary, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney never polled lower than 13 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), another establishment favorite who is ahead of Bush nationally and rising in recent polls, is currently even further behind in South Carolina, with a RealClearPolitics average of just 5 percent.

“The pattern of crowning the nominee has been broken,” said Barry Wynn, a former South Carolina GOP chairman whose office is festooned with Bush memorabilia, down to a “I Miss W” coffee mug….

A big part of the problem is the lack of GOP leadership to pull the party together around a candidate who can win. Once, that sort of leadership was provided by Carroll Campbell. Now, Nikki Haley seems uninterested, and Lindsey Graham is muddying the waters with his own quixotic campaign, which has sucked up name support that might have automatically gone to someone like Jeb Bush.

Meanwhile, when it comes to tearing the party apart, most of the state’s congressional delegation is a big part of the problem, and it’s hard to imagine them ever being part of a solution.

After the 1988 primary, when my reporter was having trouble coming up with a lede for a story summing up the results, I suggested he write, “Now we know what it feels like to be an Iowan.” It was plain that we, too, had become a state with outsized influence on the GOP nomination process.

We may not be feeling that feeling much longer, if this trend continues. And I, for one, will miss getting that early close look at the candidates.

front Wash

22 thoughts on “Crazy SC GOP is throwing it all away

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    It would have been nice to think that the SC GOP was pulling out of its madness after the flag debate. This story quotes Lee Bright prominently as representative of the crazies, which is entirely fitting.

    But remember how, so very recently, he stood out as an aberration as other SC Republicans coalesced around doing the right thing?

    If only the saner elements of the state party could build on that…

    1. bud

      … the saner elements of the state party (GOP).

      Good one Brad. If ever there was an oxymoron this is it.

  2. Mark Stewart

    I was in New Hampshire this weekend. I saw a lot of Trump yard signs – and none for any other candidate.

    BTW – It is absolutely striking to see the close social affinity between NH and SC. I’m not sure I mean that in a positive way, however. The two states share a certain streak of character that anyone in SC would instantly recognize. It made me wonder whether some sort of mill culture was transported southward by the mill managers and foremen to where it found fertile ground to grow again. So maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that these states, together with Iowa, end up not being the bell-weather states for the entire nation today – politically.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    But the SC polling isn’t out of step with the rest of the country. It’s not like there’s some state (or group of states) where Jeb! is leading. SC is in step with all the other polling. It’s not like we’re some outlier.

    Jeb! is polling at 7.1% *Nationally* according to RCP.

    Accordingly, I don’t see this as a moment where South Carolina is diverging from the rest of the GOP. The entire GOP base has rejected Jeb! and South Carolina is part of that.

    1. Doug Ross

      Right, Bryan. I think Brad is more upset that it’s not Jeb than it is someone else. If SC goes for Rubio or anyone not named Trump or Carson, then the system is working as expected. SC voted for Gingrich because they just couldn’t vote for a Mormon.

      Jeb is about as viable as Vincent Sheheen and half as energetic.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, I agree that Rubio could also be the result of the mainstream reasserting himself. After all, Rubio’s organization in the state consists of some of the establishment types who could normally be expected to go to Bush.

        But he’s doing even worse than Bush at the moment.

        And Bush is the one I mention because we all know he is the most obvious Establishment choice. If 2010 hadn’t happened, if the Tea Party were not a factor, we all know that there would be no question: Bush would win SC and the nomination. Still, as crazy as things are, if I had to bet on who is most likely to get the nomination, I’d pick Bush first. Then maybe Rubio or Kasich…

        1. Doug Ross

          Rubio also appears to be a client of Push Digital. So let’s see how that works out. Hopefully Lindsey will drop out after New Hampshire (or sooner) and not muck things up in SC just for his own vanity’s sake. How embarrassing would it be for him to lose to Trump, Carson, Bush, and more in his own state?

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, and that’s not because his name is Bush.

        Well, maybe a little of it is his name. But strip away his name, and look at the guy and his record, and he’s a prototypical safe, mainstream Republican…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Right. But in the past, it was South Carolina’s job to pull itself together and pick the eventual nominee, no matter what the rest of the country was doing.

      It was a magical thing. Whatever strange or contradictory impulses may be running through the souls of SC Republicans, they would go, “OK, it’s time to get serious and nominate somebody who can win in November!” Which they did, time and again (even though the most viable candidate at their disposal still failed to win in 1996 and 2008)…

      1. Doug Ross

        The beginning of the end for SC’s mostly imaginary power was actually in 2008 when it selected McCain. He was a bad choice as the general election proved. McCain, Huckabee, and Fred Thompson finished 1,2,3 and got 75% of the vote combined. That’s an embarrassment. They couldn’t vote for the Mormon so they went for the fading veteran, the preacher, and a TV character.

        1. Jeff Mobley

          That’s not fair. Thompson was in movies too!

          But I honestly don’t think Romney’s Mormonism is kept him from winning SC in ’08. There were other things at play there. I don’t accept that it’s in any way clear that, had he been Presbyterian or something, he would have won the South Carolina primary.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Jeff said, “But I honestly don’t think Romney’s Mormonism is kept him from winning SC in ’08. There were other things at play there….”

            Absolutely, Jeff. If his faith was even a factor, I doubt it made the top ten of his problems here.

            Here are the top two problems as I see them: The Tea Party was still feeling its oat after its big victories in 2010. But it wasn’t just fringe people supporting Gingrich. There were some people who would normally go for a more mainstream candidate backing Gingrich BECAUSE he was Nikki Haley’s candidate. There was a lot of residual alienation among the party mainstream toward her, and they wanted to see her suffer a blow to her standing.

            Now, I’m thinking that would be less of a factor. I sense that a lot of establishment Republicans are more comfortable with her now. Not all of them by any means, but a lot of them…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          McCain was the best candidate in the field, whatever you think of him.

          One time I think SC failed to go with the stronger candidate was in 2000, when it rejected McCain for Bush.

          But that’s me projecting my values, which are not those of a Republican.

          By the traditional standards of the GOP, Bush was probably the safer bet. Which is why my boss, the publisher, preferred him, and worked hard to get half of the board to agree with him. It was the only argument like that that I ever lost.

          Interestingly (at least to me), we were both going with our personality types, which sort of came out in our discussions.

          I had always been the guy who knew how to do EVERYTHING that the people I supervised did. It was important to me to possess those skills in a high degree, and to know that when I asked someone to do something, they knew I could do it, and maybe better than they could. I was very hands-on, very much into being the expert, the pro from Dover.

          Fred, my publisher, wasn’t that way at all. He was the model CEO, a guy who didn’t mind at all that he supervised knew how to do things he couldn’t do. He was there to listen to the experts who advised him, and to make decisions based on that.

          McCain, as a naval aviator, was the operator type, the hands-on kind of guy. The guy who would work to make himself the expert on whatever he cared about, as a pilot tended to make sure he knew the condition of his aircraft before firing up the engines. I’m not saying he was 100 percent that way; but it was a trait he sometimes exhibited. He was the pilot type, not the desk jockey type.

          Bush, by contrast, did not pretend to be an expert at anything, but presented himself as “the decider.” When he said things like that, he was speaking Fred’s language.

          Which I respected entirely. I was even willing to admit that maybe the presidency calls more for that type of manager, rather that someone like Jimmy Carter who would try to manage the schedule of the White House tennis court.

          But I had a prejudice toward the expert, which was something I liked about Carter. People forget that Carter came across that way when he came on the scene. Dan Akroyd had fun with it with his “Ask President Carter” skit:

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s another potential bad outcome if SC goes rogue again…

    The party establishment people would be likely to join the movement to close the primary (which may not be anathema to you, but it certainly is to me). That’s because some of these people telling pollsters they’re for Trump are not people with a solid record of voting in past GOP primaries…

  5. Karen Pearson

    It’s only by keeping the primaries open that the GOP has a chance of seeing a sane person the winner.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Yes, I did not follow that line of thinking, ether, Karen. It’s the fringe that wants to have a closed primary.

      I imagine the idea that Trump’s supporters are not regular voters is a likely thruth. Closing the primary, when most of them are at least “R’s” on the voter rolls, does nothing to temper their vote.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I agree, Karen, but a lot of loyalists in BOTH parties believe member of the opposite party vote in their primaries to try to nominate the weakest candidates.

      Were a Trump or a Carson to win in SC, I would expect some mainstream Republicans to blame it on sneaky Democrats. They would also blame it on people who aren’t very connected to politics and seldom vote and are only coming out because they like Trump, for whatever reason…

  6. bud

    Time to handicap the race again! This one is still tough but I sense a small, but important shift toward one candidate:

    1. Rubio (35%) The establishment will get behind him soon, including the governor. Yet his poll numbers are still pretty low so I can’t really go much higher than 1 in 3.
    2. Carson (16%) Not sure what folks see in him but he’s polling very well right now.
    3. Cruz (15%) Should be doing better with tea partiers. I predict he will.
    4. Bush (13%) With so much money he can’t be counted out just yet. Still he is excruciatingly boring.
    5. Trump (5%) Still polling well for some inexplicable reason. Another round of good polls and I may be forced to bump him up. For now I just don’t see it.
    6. Fiorina (5%) Seems to be fading a bit. Folks are not buying her super CEO persona.
    7. Kasich (4%) Just too moderate for the GOP of 2015/16
    8. Huckabee (3%) Could attract theocrats if Carson appears too dangerous.
    9. Christie (2%) Still hanging around. Folks seem to like a bully.
    10. Paul (1%) It appears his appeal is extremely limited.
    11. The Rest (1%) the professor and Mary Ann just can’t get any respect.

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