Straight-party voting did a nasty job on South Carolina

Mandy on the bus in 2018.

Mandy on the bus in 2018.

Why did I agonize the way I did over the fact that all four people I’d be voting for this year were in the same party? Because I know what a destructive thing the practice of straight-party voting can be.

Yes, I examined each choice I was making with the usual care, and was satisfied that in each case, I was making the right choice:

  1. Donald Trump is the worst president in our history, a thoroughly disgusting person, and Joe Biden is his opposite — so no question there.
  2. Lindsey Graham has thrown away everything that once made him worth voting for, while Jaime Harrison offered the promise of a fresh, unsullied start.
  3. Adair Boroughs was untested, but her opponent Joe Wilson has been tested over and over, and found wanting.
  4. I am thoroughly satisfied with my state senator, Nikki Setzler, and his opponent (whose name slips my mind) offered no persuasive reasons to replace him.

The fact that all four were Democrats was in part incidental, and in part the result of the utter degradation of the Republican Party in the age of Trump. I am pleased with the choices I made, and sorry that only half of them won.

But too many people don’t go through all that. They just vote for one party or the other, rather than for candidates. In South Carolina, we even offer people the opportunity to do it by pressing a single button, which is appalling. Anyone who takes advantage of that “convenience” is completely throwing away his or her responsibility to careful consider how to vote. Do that, and you’ve let the parties think for you.

Yeah, I know: Some of my regular readers do it, and feel no shame for it. If I recall correctly, the ones I’ve heard from tend to go for the Democratic option. I invite them to consider what a gross practice this is by contemplating the harm Republicans did this year when they did the exact same thing.

There is no way, no way at all that such people as Vincent Sheheen and Mandy Powers Norrell were turned out of office as a result of voters actually comparing them to their opponents and finding the incumbents wanting. That’s impossible. I’ll use Mandy as an example of what I’m talking about.

She is a Democrat who has been repeatedly returned to office by her Republican neighbors. She is one of them, born and raised in the district. Her family worked at the textile mill, and she worked her way through to become the first in her family to graduate from both college and law school. As a municipal attorney, she was thoroughly immersed in practical, nonideological local issues for years before going to serve in the General Assembly. Her commitment to Lancaster was deep and profound. I used to worry about her in 2018 because at the end of unbelievably exhausting days campaigning across the state, after she had pulled back into Columbia with the rest of us late at night, she would drive home to Lancaster. And then she’d drive back to start again before the sun had fully risen again. Day after day.

As for her opponent…. well, her qualification was that she was a Republican. She moved to the community from South Florida in 2006. But she’s a Republican, you see. Let me show you something else. Watch the video clip attached to this tweet:

And here’s another one:

Yeah, Mandy herself chose those clips, and did so because they showed her at an advantage. But here’s the thing: I know her, and I know how smart and dedicated she is. That’s the way she normally answers questions. Maybe her opponent sometimes sounds smarter and better informed than she did in those clips. But I’ve looked over her website and her Facebook page and I don’t see much sign of it. I just see lip service given to national GOP talking points, and no indications of an understanding of the issues facing South Carolina, much less Lancaster.

In other words, I see things aimed at the buttons of a straight-ticket Republican voter, period. And a particularly ignorant one at that — the type who thinks “defunding police” is a burning issue in the State House.

Can you imagine the votes for Mandy’s opponent were based on her being better suited, personally, to the job? Maybe you can. I cannot.

Let’s talk about Vincent Sheheen, one of the smartest and most earnest members of the Senate. Actually, I’ll let my friend Cindi Scoppe talk about him. I urge you to read her column about Vincent’s defeat, headlined, “This was South Carolina’s worst surprise on Tuesday. Nothing else came close.”

Some excerpts, among description of Vincent’s accomplishments over the years:

Come January, Mr. Sheheen will no longer be there to serve as a bridge between the races and the parties and the House and Senate. He will no longer be in a position to work through the big problems that most legislators don’t have the capacity or temperament or relationships to work through. Because a red wave swept over Kershaw, Chesterfield and Lancaster counties on Tuesday, as the nation’s most expensive ever U.S. Senate contest drowned the electorate in a $230 million hyper-nationalized stew of partisanship that purged voters’ appetite for local issues or the merits of individual candidates….

One news story described Mr. Sheheen’s defeat as “arguably one of the most stunning legislative upsets for Democrats for this cycle.” It’s not. It’s clearly the most stunning upset for any S.C. politician this cycle, probably this century. And the most devastating for our state.

It’s an obvious loss for Democrats. But it’s also a loss for Republicans, and all of us, because Mr. Sheheen was among a small handful of legislators who went to Columbia not to be somebody important but to do something important. And at that, he was remarkably successful.

No, I don’t know how many of the people who did this damage to South Carolina by voting Vincent out were voting straight-ticket. But the numbers suggest that few could have been doing anything else. And I haven’t seen where anyone has offered any other plausible explanation…

An even older file photo, from 2010...

An even older file photo, from 2010…

90 thoughts on “Straight-party voting did a nasty job on South Carolina

  1. Mark Stewart

    Trump derangement syndrome. I’m still surprised at the number of people who chose hyper-partisanship over any aptitude for political service last week.

    Straight party voting should be abolished, there is no good reason for it to be imposed on voters – it’s really the grossest form of voter disenfranchisement. It has also hurt both parties so it kind of amazes me that it isn’t tossed as removing straight party voting is, first, incumbent friendly.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Wow. Those clips are quite revealing. The parties will always benefit from straight-ticket voting, so it’s not going anywhere. We have to have better informed and educated citizens. The most important job in our country is being a citizen. We need to persuade and convince other people to be informed voters.

    Being an informed citizen isn’t easy. You have to want it. The worst part is that I can’t make others want it.

    1. Barry

      That won’t happen.

      A friend of mine was told she wasn’t a Christian because she voted for some democrats notwithstanding the two democrats she voted for her in her area are both wonderful Christian women. – if that matters.

      That’s what we are dealing with now in society and we will pay the price for it.

      As a Christian, I’m personally sick of most of the so called Christians I know. Most of them Worship a political party, not a risen savior.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        How old are you and your “friends”? How long have you known them?

        Also, your “friends” sound like jerks. Maybe you should get some new ones.

        1. Scout

          It does matter. Increasingly people don’t analyze information for themselves but just let themselves be lead by labels and stereotypes and propaganda. Maybe they always did. I don’t know. I’m tired of being the weird one in this regard.

          Bryan, did you maybe read his post wrong? It sounds to me more like the people that talked to his friend were the jerks. They are the ones that equated Democrat with anti-Christian without actually analyzing the information in front of them. His friend was the one who thought for herself and voted for good people who happened to be Democrats and got maligned for it. If I am understanding correctly.

      2. Bob Amundson

        It is very difficult to affect someone’s thinking when they believe that any person that votes for any Democrat is complicit in “killing babies.” Understand to be understood, sure, but single issue voters are difficult to understand, hence to change. Heuristic thinkers are a “tough nut to crack.”

        1. Bob Amundson

          Doing business in rural New York State necessitates interacting with some of these voters. They don’t say it loudly, but they imply that abortion is a form of birth control practiced by non-white women. Implicit bias …

    2. Joey Nichols

      I don’t think it’s necessarily up to the citizen to know all the policy differences. What I will say is that of course a person who wants to be politically engaged needs to pay somewhat attention to the going ons around them, but I believe it’s more up to the party to get their message out effectively. And that’s where I believe the dems failed in this election.

      The Republicans have pretty easy to grasp talking points are are very effective at reiterating them. The Democrats need to find a way to replicate that. It will likely take more effort as their positions are generally more nuanced. So maybe more in person canvassing and most definitely a better social media outreach.

  3. David L Carlton

    I was wondering if there was still straight-ticket voting in SC; I recall it from when I still lived there in the 1970s and early 1980s. Of course, I’m a Democrat, and always wind up voting for Democrats (the last Republican I voted for was Bob Corker, because I liked him and the Democrat he was running against was a joke). But face it, Brad–the problem here is that SC Republicans have gone off the rails, and simply electing more Democrats (even first-raters like Vince and Mandy) won’t fix that unless somehow they actually get control. It’s parties that run politics, not free-lance individuals. And when Lindsey Graham starts talking about Democrats like Mart Gary used to talk about Republicans, this historian starts wondering if SC has really exorcised its old demons, or simply changed the labels it uses.

  4. randle

    As I mentioned a while ago, the voting pattern you are seeing is an example of the negative partisanship theory Rachel Bitecofer writes about. Sheheen and Mandy live in Republican districts, so they’re defeated. Bitecofer predicted the results of the 2018 election months ahead of time. And she predicted who the voters would be for each side. She also predicted Biden’s win more than a year out. People vote their tribe right now, and they vote against the other party. The name of the game is turning out your side and any persuadable independents who lean your way. I found this to be true when I phone-banked for the Democratic Party, starting about 6 years ago. Republicans told me they only voted for candidates with R behind their names. I found that to be true of Democrats this year. Most told me they planned to vote straight ticket. It would be nice if voters were more thoughtful about their choices, but that’s not what’s going on. Bitecofer writes about the pandemic, “A healthy body politic does not remain unresponsive to political stimulus on an epic scale. Ours alone is the only democracy in which the public flatlined in this way.” Because the only thong moving the electorate according to Bitecofer is partisanship.
    Check out this article Bitecofer wrote in Jan. 19 for a more thorough explanation of her model.

    1. Nancy M Kreml

      As a Democrat who does think about choices, there was a time when I voted for LIndsey Graham, although he was a Republican. But after seeing him betray the people of the US and SC for several years, I was happy to vote for Jaime Harrison–not because he had a D after his name, but because his ideas and policies are the ones I want to support. Sometime it’s the politicians, not the voters, who make us choose.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes, they do — and it should always be the candidates and their relative virtues or lack thereof that should govern our choices when we vote.

        Lindsey Graham not only forfeited his right to expect the vote of any thinking person in the three or four years leading up to Election Day, but he has been if anything worse since winning re-election. He is an appalling insult to the office of U.S. senator.

        And Jaime Harrison had earned our votes. And any serious, thinking person who paid attention and voted according to the relative merits of the candidates would have chosen Harrison…

  5. Scout

    So why did Nikki Setzler win? Somehow he feels like part of the tribe to people who think like this even though he is a Democrat? How do some people break through to that level and others not?

    1. Randle

      I don’t know how Setzler does it, but he is an outlier, isn’t he? Comparing Bitecofer’s predictions and analyses with election results supports her theory, as do the posts on this blog about straight-party tickets, Bret Stephens’ op-ed and the GOP press release crowing they BEAT the Democrats. Negative partisanship.
      If you want your candidate to win, and you are losing races — as Dems did in the House, Senate and state legislatures — you should try another strategy. As my Dad always said, “Don’t fight the problem.”

  6. Doug T

    Driving the backroads of Chesterfield County we saw so many signs for “Penry”. I didn’t know which office Penry Gustafson was running for until I voted (straight Dem ticket). We saw very few Sheheen signs. I’ve mentioned this before…at a Gallivant’s Ferry stump meeting we were within 6 ft of Sheheen. He didn’t make an effort to meet and greet at all.

    Vincent may be a very effective legislator but I question his campaigning skills.

    Lancaster County was Vincent’s downfall (and Spratt earlier, Mandy etc). The Charlotte ‘burbs and retirees are changing the mix in Lancaster County and those voters have no idea what Mandy or Vincent contributed to our state. Other less populated counties in our district are getting redder but Lancaster County was the difference. It’s not looking good for Dems in our part of the state.

    1. Jim Catoe

      Doug I had the same impression while travelling in Kershaw County: few Sheheen signs and no political spots on local radio stations.

      1. Barry

        I spend time in kershaw. You are correct.

        Penry campaigned hard for almost a year. She is conservative but not extreme, as far as I can tell. I know she was concerned a few years ago when the Kershaw county republicans Facebook page was posting a lot of nonsense garbage because she hinted at it.

        Vincent would have received my vote had I lived in his district. The fact, like many, his law firm receives millions in doing business with the state was a real sore subject.

        1. Barry

          I’ll add, toward the end of the campaign Vincent ran a few local commercials with him and his sons going hunting. I thought then he might be in trouble but never figured he’d lose. The family name runs deep in camden, but not other towns.

  7. Ken

    The one-and-done vote option is a bane and should be eliminated.
    But I completely disagree with the suggestion that those who vote straight Dem ticket are equally worthy of condemnation.

    Not in THIS state, they aren’t.

    For the first roughly 15 years of my voting career, I occasionally voted for a Republican running for local or state office. But as the state became so dominated by Republicans, almost to the point of becoming a one-party state again, and especially as the party became increasingly ideological in its positions, I could no longer do so. And I think many other voters here see this the same way: we see our votes as a protest against the lack of viable choices. When only 5 of 18 races are contested, as was the case on the most recent ballot, the only real choice is protest.

  8. bud

    What an absurd post. Straight party voting isn’t the problem. Straight party REPUBLICAN voting is the problem. The GOP IS the party of Trump and his sycophants. This party needs to be defeated and replaced with something with a new Conservative party that actually values fiscal responsibility and less government intrusion into business and personal affairs. A party that ACTUALLY does value traditional family values rather than a confessed serial sexual predator. That is a party that I could respect. But for now any suggestion that I should consider voting for a party that is little better that Fascist Italy is insulting to everything I value as an American. I voted straight party this time. Proudest vote I ever made.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, bud, I knew you would disagree. But just for clarity’s sake, no one is saying you “should consider voting for a party” of any sort.

      The whole point is that you should never, ever vote for a party, period. You should always, always vote for the better candidate…

      1. bud

        Emphatically disagree. The Democrats are our ONLY hope right now. The individual candidate is largely irrelevant. I might consider a Green or Libertarian but never ever a Republican (until they become normal). Straight party is the only rational choice right now for me. I even voted for the Democrats with a really awful candidate for POTUS.

        1. Trent

          I agree with Bud. I’d hoped that I’d wake up last Wednesday morning and the voting results would show me the Pied Piper’s spell was broken which in retrospect was pretty naive. Instead, we’re still in the middle of the Emperor with no clothes. That’s all my Brother’s Grimm references. With a very few isolated exceptions, there are no Republicans in elected office anywhere worthy of support. Unfortunately, that’s because while there are undoubtedly many who know the truth, they aren’t willing to say it because they won’t get re-elected. That demonstrates a lack of integrity and thus disqualification from elected office for me. So I also agree with Brad-I will always vote for the better candidate. It’s just that in the near future, they are all going to be Democrats.

  9. Doug T

    So….if the choice of voting for the 2 Dem GA senators results in Dems taking control of the Senate and puts Mitch in the minority providing a path to address Climate Change, taxes, min wage, judge approvals etc does the quality of the candidates really matter?


    1. bud

      Well said Doug. But in the GA case both Dems seem far better anyway. But even if the 2 GOP candidates were slightly preferable I’d vote for the Dems.

  10. Brad Warthen Post author

    The thing about Vincent is that, among his other virtues, he was actually one of those VERY rare lawmakers who had a deep understanding of government, how it worked and how it DIDN’T work.

    I’ll share this post from 2008 as an example of what I mean. It’s not a very long post, because Vincent had come to see us during what may have been the busiest month in my 15 years of blogging (and one of the busiest of all those years at the paper), January 2008, when we not only had both parties’ presidential primaries, but the usual start of a new legislative session, etc.

    Vincent came to see Cindi and me because he knew we understood the problems he was trying to address — we had written about them extensively (now the only person still working at a newspaper who might understand is Cindi, and she’s at a DIFFERENT paper). And he thought that maybe we would also understand his new idea for approaching those problems.

    The idea that we’ve just thrown away someone this smart, thoughtful and dedicated is just very sad to contemplate. One thing about South Carolina is that we have far, far too few such people…

  11. April

    For #4, Setzler’s opponent was Chris Smith, who masklessly hassled people in line during West Columbia’s early voting period in late October. You have to wonder how many people he turned off from voting for Smith because of that.

    I agree wholeheartedly though, that straight ticket voting must be abolished. We are one of the last states to have it because it does only benefit those Rs.

  12. Brad Warthen Post author

    Folks, I had been trying to remember as I was writing this post… I was thinking that straight-ticket voting used to be a Democratic thing, but had trouble finding numbers.

    But here’s a helpful release from the GOP. They’re immensely proud that THEY have more straight-ticket voters than the Dems now. So here we go again… the Trump GOP being proud of things they should be ashamed of…

    SCGOP beats Democrats on straight ticket voting for third straight election

    (Columbia, S.C.) – The SCGOP beat Democrats on straight ticket voting for the third straight cycle by a margin of 17%, more than doubling the margin from 2018.

    Just under 2.5 million S.C. residents voted for president, with 1.6 million choosing straight ticket. Out of that total, 935,584 Republicans voted straight ticket, or 59% of straight ticket votes compared to Democrats’ 41%.

    In 2016, Republicans beat Democrats for the first time on straight ticket voting, by a margin of 2.9%. Continuing that historic trend, Republicans again beat Democrats in straight ticket with a margin of 8%. For the past three cycles, S.C. Republicans have more than doubled our straight ticket margins in each election.

    Out of all Republican votes cast, 68% were straight ticket votes. Additionally, 38% of the total votes cast on Election Day were from Republican straight ticket voters.

    “Issues win campaigns and the Party platform matters. Since President Trump ran in 2016, he has dramatically expanded our party throughout the state. He had the highest percentage of non-caucasian votes of any Republican president since 1960. Rural Democrats who no longer identify with the radical Left of their party are joining the SCGOP and voting straight ticket,” said SCGOP Chairman Drew McKissick. “We welcome them with open arms and look forward to seeing just how bad we’ll beat Democrats again in 2022.”

    These numbers are based on the most recently available data from the S.C. Election Commission as of Friday afternoon.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, and that shameful release reminds me of something else from the state GOP that I meant to mention in this post, but forgot. Here it is, with my commentary:

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That’s kind of related to something Bret Stephens wrote recently about the GOP.

        He said what the party stands for now is not any of the principles it once embraced. Now, it’s just about BEATING Democrats, about “owning the libs.” Or as he put it, about petty resentment:

        Here was a stunning moral inversion. Limbaugh turned public respect for McCain’s wartime record into an act of surrender to political correctness. And he treated Trump’s shamelessness as an expression of moral courage. It set the template for the campaign, and presidency, that followed. Every time Trump lied, broke a promise, humiliated a subordinate, insulted a stranger, bullied an ally, tweeted something vile, said something idiotic, threatened to blow up NATO, and otherwise violated moral, political and institutional norms, his appeal among the Republican base didn’t decline. It rose. As far as they were concerned, he wasn’t embarrassing himself or degrading the country. He was “owning the libs” — hoisting them, as his supporters saw it, on their own petard of priggish propriety.

        This form of politics — not as a complement to statecraft, but as the outpouring of resentment — is what has come to define the conservative movement in the age of Trump….

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’m actually surprised that Stephens, as a conservative, even deigns to call it “the conservative movement” any more. That’s what it was in Reagan’s day, perhaps. Now it’s just about despising other Americans — and foreigners, too, of course…

        2. Bryan Caskey

          I wrote a long response about the conservative movement, but then I realized that everyone here is a Democrat, so what’s the point? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          1. Mark Stewart

            Conservatism is kinda irrelevant these days with Tea party “warriors” and now Trumpism. It’s all populist swill; the politics of grievances and fears.

            I’ve hung up my Republican leanings until this sh#t storm has passed, though it may bring down the GOP when all is said and done. We need some John McCains, but its probably still too early for them to come out. In the meantime, the SCGOP is touting the number of non-voters they have energized, but they are not discussing the numbers who have abandoned the party for its crazy tilt. One day the lazy voters are going to stop showing up, and then the GOP will be what?

              1. Mark Stewart

                Irrelevant in that it isn’t a topic that will help get us unstuck from our current nightmare. If we can at least get back to Tea party crazy, then we can talk about what conservatism means and how it could help us – both in general as a political society and as a brake on demagoguery.

                I’m a big fan of the old school Progressivism, aka Liberalism – which is NOT the way its used these days.

            1. Ken

              Conservatism isn’t irrelevant. But this debate over who is a “real, true, genuine” conservative is is really pretty silly. It reminds me of the hold-outs in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Communists regimes there, who debated in almost theological terms whether or not those regimes embodied “true socialism.”
              Same thing now with “conservatism” or the “conservative movement.” As that great philosopher in the White House said about another topic: “It is what it is.” Like it or not, real-world conservatism has taken the form it has. Trump is no outlier, no invader, no hostile takeover artist. He is the product of a quarter century and more of the conservative movement’s efforts. Listen to Stuart Stevens, if you don’t believe me. He’s saying pretty much this very thing.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I’ve got this thing about words. You say a person or an idea is “conservative” if it’s, you know, conservative. If it resists change, or embraces tradition, or shies away from risks in favor of being careful, it’s conservative.

                If it’s more about embracing civil liberties, or pluralism (taking a “to each his own” attitude toward beliefs), or taking risks to achieve goals, it’s liberal.

                It’s important to defend language. It’s particularly important to resist people using “conservative” or “liberal” to refer to one’s tribe, to say “acceptable people, people like me.” And we know for certain “conservative” is used that way in South Carolina and other parts of the country. I suppose there are also places where “liberal” is used that way. We should stand up against that, and demand clarity and honesty in political speech.

                Both “conservative” and “liberal” refer to concepts that are honorable and respectable, and good ideas depending on the situation. We should insist they be used that way, and not as passwords for tribes…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Of course, we know that one of the messages conveyed in South Carolina by “I’m a conservative” is “It’s OK to vote for me; I’m white.”

                  Tim Scott has confused that a bit, but not all that much. It still communicates that pretty clearly, most of the time…

                2. Ken

                  Your “thing about words” fails to take into account both American political history and the way words can change meaning, depending on the context in which they operate. Barry Goldwater was a conservative. Ronald Reagan was a conservative. But both of them were considered firebrands of a sort, even dangerous by some. They were neither keen to retain the status quo nor careful about risks. They were all about overturning the status quo of their respective times. And as Rick Perlstein shows in volume three of his history of conservatism, The Invisible Bridge, as a political figure Reagan was in some ways strikingly similar to Donald Trump, and could even be considered a precursor.

                3. Mark Stewart

                  Reagan was different in that, except for a few like Edwin Meese, he generally had highly competent and Brad’s version of conservatives surrounding him. But, yes, his version of conservatism was to push back to some idealized past that never was.

                  That’s usually the difference between the conservative and liberal paradigms – one looks to an idealized past to recreate and the other searches for an idealized future to construct. beyond that, it’s all mostly just words used to mask radical ideas on both sides; like Originalist, etc.

                4. Ken

                  If you look back at Reagan’s political rhetoric, you’ll find that, especially as a candidate, he not infrequently made up things out of whole cloth and misrepresented and distorted facts, much like our current fabulist. That’s just one example of a parallel.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            … also, if everyone here WERE a Democrat, all the more reason for you to post it. As long as you don’t engage in enthusiasm or something else unsuitable…

        3. bud

          I have to pose an important question. Was the Trump presidency really worse than George Ws? Sure Trump’s personal behavior and decorum was disgusting. But he never lied us into war. Stephens was fine with that disgusting act. W really was reprehensible as a president. Just because Trump was crude shouldn’t make us forget the utter nightmare of W.

          1. Mark Stewart


            Bush was wrong it turned out, but he meant to do the right thing. It just later became obvious he didn’t. But he was honorable. Still is.

            Don’t ever compare them, Bud.

            1. Doug Ross

              I agree with bud. Bush was worse. Trump is a buffoon but his buffoonery didn’t lead to tens of thousands of innocent people being killed. Bush was as dumb as Trump but with a more likeable frat boy style. Cheney led Bush around by the nose and we’re still suffering for it two decades later.

              The Bush second term economy was worse than the COVID economy — which will recover much faster. There’s a reason Trump’s favorability rating will be much higher than Bush’s final rating. At the end of 2008, Bush was at 28% favorable. Trump will likely end up around 43-45%.

              So to say “don’t compare them” basically attempts to whitewash history. Bush was a disaster with longterm impact. Trump was a tweeter.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                The good thing about Doug being back is there’s someone to agree with Bud when he once again makes that outrageous assertion.

                Fellows, once again, we’ve had two kinds of presidents in our history, Trump, and everyone else. The two groups are more than light years apart; they are ones and zeroes. For instance, no other president has ever refused to accept the results of an election removing him. This isn’t something like policy disagreement, such as whether to engage in a military action. This is about whether our democracy and its fundamental assumptions will survive.

                Speaking of such debates, Bud: for the hundredth time: No one “lied” us into war in Iraq. That didn’t happen…

                1. Doug Ross

                  If two people with as diverse thoughts and ideals as bud and I have can agree that Bush was worse, it doesn’t make your narrow “words over actions” opinion very strong.

                  More Americans agree that Trump was better than Bush by a wide margin at the end of each of their respective terms. You can pretend that isn’t the case but you are wrong.

                  If you don’t like “Bush lied, people died”, how about this: “Bush misled and people are dead”? What Bush and Cheney did was the worst action taken by a President in my lifetime. Worse than Watergate, worse than Lewinsky, worse than Iran Contra, worse than Trump’s border policy.. and on par with all the horrendous decisions made by Presidents related to Vietnam.

                2. Doug Ross

                  You’re both living in a world where you define your happiness by who sits in the White House… spending a significant amount of your time over the past four years obsessing over a buffoon, making up all kinds of end-of-the-world scenarios, believing every anonymous story from a biased press who were shown to be as dumb as the people who watch and read their drivel. A cocoon of misery is what I would call it.

                  Good luck next year finding your new boogeyman.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Well, first this one has to go away. And I will be happy as a clam. I think perhaps Joe Biden’s best ad in this election was the one that said something like “Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to think about who the president is anymore?” (I can’t remember the precise wording, but it spoke clearly to one of the things I love about Joe.)

                    By the way, Doug, I know it bothers you a lot that I show interest in politics. Just FYI, to keep it from bothering you in the future, this is a politics blog. I realize it may LOOK like a sports blog or something, but it isn’t.

                    For my part, of course, I get alarmed that you think it doesn’t matter that for four years, a malevolent idiot — a truly, profoundly evil man — who does not give a DAMN about any kind of legal, moral or social barrier to his behavior has held the highest office in the world.

                    It really, truly floors me. No, Doug. It’s not about “tweets”…

                3. Scout

                  I know you weren’t talking to me, but I don’t define my happiness by who is in the white house. However, my happiness is affected by the state of the world around me. If the person in the white house oppresses minorities, denies asylum to people who will be killed if they are returned to their home country, separates children from parents, creates an environment where mocking of those with disabilities is tolerated or even encouraged, rolls back regulations that limit pollution and sells out our wilderness to drillers, miners, and loggers, and threatens our democracy – these are things that make me unhappy. These are things that affect me.

                  I’m sure you will want to know how these things affect me personally and probably discount them if you think they don’t change my life in any material way. But they do affect me. I care about people and wildlife. So these things affect me.

                4. Bob Amundson

                  I echo Scout’s comments; “enlightened self interest.” “Rational selfishness,” a term generally related to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, is a more individualistic form of enlightened self-interest. Rational selfishness seems more self-directed; the benefit to the group or society is merely a possible by-product. The focus of enlightened self-interest is more group-directed (communitarian), hence the benefit to oneself is more of the by-product.

                  Doug is clearly a good, generous man. I “filter” my consciousness differently, but if the end results are similar, I’ll accept that.

              2. Mark Stewart

                Trump has killed more Americans than any President since Lyndon Johnson (recent estimates are 30,00+ would not be dead had he encouraged masks for all from the very beginning. It’s not even close. Then there is Syria if you want to go there…

                Economies have nothing to do with presidents, people – ever! Jeez

                trump is a cult leader. The fact that his approval rating is as high as it is is an indication of just how deep our racism still runs, and how many people are willing to just turn a blind eye to it.

                We have never had such moral rot in the White House. never.

                1. Doug Ross

                  How many would have died under Hillary? Saying Trump killed even a single person of a virus is the the true definition of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Go back and read all your predictions for the past four years. You’ll be embarrassed.

                  From March until today, we know what we have to do to prevent catching COVID. Trump didn’t have to tell me what to do…. and I’m sure whatever he said you wouldn’t listen to anyway.

                  It’s delusional to think that people who caught and died of COVID (by far, far numbers the elderly and infirmed) were a result of Donald Trump. Do you seriously think the breakdown of COVID deaths skews toward one political party? The death rates in the U.S. are as much a function of age and poor health lifestyles than anything else.

                  Joe Biden isn’t going to cure a pandemic that has occurred around the world and continues to do so. But you keep waiting on Savior Joe to make all the bad things go away for you. All we need is Democrats to right the ship.

                2. Scout

                  How many would have died under Hillary? from Covid? Not nearly as many. She would have undoubtably not disbanded the pandemic team and would have listened to Scientists from the beginning. She would have used the defense production act for PPE early on. She would not have made States bid against each other for scarce supplies. She would have modeled recommendations from and not contradicted her own team. She would not have valued ‘numbers’ more than the lives of Americans stuck on a cruise ship. I think the list could probably go on.

                3. Mark Stewart

                  I meant 30,000 people dead from the disregard for face masks and other measures. Bud, 10 million is hyperbole. And Doug, it is obvious that Trump’s self-serving disinterest in leading the nation to protect itself resulted in additional, unnecessary deaths. Those absolutely fall on Trump; certainly history will see it that way. There is no derangement syndrome at play here.

    2. Mark Stewart

      Not surprisingly, “Caucasian” is probably not the term he should have gone with, but it does point out what this election was all about – anxiety over the loss of white privilege. That’s the driving emotional theme the GOP went with; and its time people confront that.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Mark, I think that is definitely a significant piece of what Trump is about. And it’s certainly a HUGE part of what motivated Joe to run, after the disgrace of Trump’s response to Charlottesville.

        But there’s more to it than that. For instance, there is the appeal of rank stupidity. Whether you’re talking race or something unrelated, what we see over and over is that millions of people are drawn to the unbelievably stupid things he says and does.

        So many times, I’ve meant to write a certain post, but I keep getting distracted before I can sort out in my mind how to write it. It would pose the question, “Is Trump more evil, or stupid?” And of course, I know the answer is “both.” But which is more, and which predominates in this or that situation?

        And then there’s the difficulty in making up my mind what to say about the next question that one demands we ask: What about the people who vote for him? It’s easy to see the stupidity in them, which is infuriating but also stirs pity. But of course, it’s not always stupidity. We keep hearing about the rich people who vote for him because of such things as the tax changes that further enriched them. They, of course, are evil. Although I have to also wonder about your intelligence if you will support the guy who increases your bank account from $X to $X+1, but will wreck the whole system that makes for a healthy country and ensures your dollars or property continue to have value.

        (We can also consider people who are motivated by ideals rather than dollars, but make the same flawed calculation: For instance, the pro-life Christian who decides to ignore everything else Trump is, and does, in exchange for some judges who might someday bring down Roe v. Wade. You can actually hear them say, “Character doesn’t matter; what matters is that he will do this one thing.” Is that evil– not caring about the many other evil things Trump does — or stupid? You pro-choice folks might just say “both” and not be torn about it. For me, I fully feel what they feel about wanting to stop abortion, but I don’t think this is the way, and I don’t think some conservative judges — which are not the same thing as eliminating abortion — outweigh every other consideration in the universe.)

        It’s related to another question I often wonder about: Is Trump lying, or does he simply not have a clue what the truth is? This relates to his abysmal, oft-demonstrated complete lack of understanding of things that most people his age should know — that is to say, his stupidity, or at least, his ignorance. But it also relates to a profound character flaw — which is that to him, “truth” is whatever pleases or is convenient to him. He has zero respect for any truth that exists independently of whether it is pleasing to him. So in other words, we’re back to the question: Evil, or stupid? And again, you conclude “both,” but can’t help wondering which comes first, in a sort of chicken-and-egg dynamic…

  13. Norm Ivey

    Let’s take it one step further and remove all party indicators from the ballots. Really make people think about whom they are voting for and why.

    1. Ken

      Really, really, really bad idea. Elections should be organized around ideas, policy proposals and the like, NOT individuals. This view that it’s the candidate who should be the focus of our attention is the result of an overemphasis on the “great man” notion of history. There have indeed been great men and women in history. But their legacies last because of the things they achieved, not because of who they were as candidates.

      1. Doug Ross

        Then don’t run candidates. Let each person pick a party and let the party assign people to the positions.

        I agree with Norm. Remove the party affiliation and the let’s see how ignorant the voting public actually is. The majority of Americans couldn’t name their congressmen.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Doug is back, and we agree on something!

          Remove party affiliations from ballots. Do that, and the election results in South Carolina would have been VERY different. And far better for our state…

            1. Ken

              All it would do is further intensify the competition of personalities, to the detriment of ideas — like in the 2016 presidential election.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Ah, but here’s the thing: Parties are no longer capable of playing a constructive role in the process. Once — back when the nominee was actually chosen at the convention — they did. They acted as arbiters. They made sure their candidates clearly and competently represented whatever it was they stood for.

                Now, they are utterly powerless in the face of, as you say, that “competition of personalities.”

                Basically, when the GOP failed to prevent Donald Trump from walking in and taking its nomination for president in 2016, it was the most powerful signal we’ve had yet that parties — that one, at least — are moribund, if not stone-cold dead…

                1. Ken

                  Practically everything you wrote argues in favor of STRENGTHENING not weakening the role of parties.

                  Arguing that parties are not doing a good job at what they should be doing doesn’t take away from the fact that they are the only feasible tool for organizing public debate on policy ideas. To the extent they are “powerless,” it’s because we have chosen to make them so by encouraging a competition of individuals rather than ideas. Which itself is just an example of the myth of the individual in American life. Among other things.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    “Practically everything you wrote argues in favor of STRENGTHENING not weakening the role of parties.”

                    Absolutely. I was offering the argument for parties. The thing is, none of that is going to happen, so parties are useless, and their main effect on society is negative — such as the widespread damage party identification did in South Carolina last week.

                    I haven’t read the book, but I was impressed years ago by what David Broder had to say about a book called The United States of Ambition. I think it dealt a lot with what you said about these opportunistic individuals, whom the weakening of parties has empowered. People like Trump…

                2. Ken

                  Your argument: Parties are ineffective, useless — AND they are causing “widespread damage.” I think that’s what’s called an absurd non-sequitur.

                  Besides: polarization is not a synonym for party.

                  And in any case, parties in one form or another are here to stay. So it would be better to see how to use them as a productive part of governing rather than wishing them away.

                3. bud

                  The Republican Party is hardly moribund. It’s not what you want it to be. Nor is it the party it once was. But it is a strong, vibrant healthy party. They control the senate and a majority of state legislatures. That’s not moribund. What it is is the Trump Party. You might find that offensive, as do I, but that’s very different from moribund.

  14. Brad Warthen Post author

    We’ve had a fairly lively discussion on this post, but it hasn’t stirred as many interactions as the tweet linking to it did — 70 likes, 25 retweets and 12 replies:

    That’s partly because Mandy herself responded to it, saying:

    Also, both Jaime Harrison and Adair Ford Boroughs — the two candidates I voted for who lost — also “liked” it.

    But as I often do, I look at all those likes and comments, and I wish some of those folks would come and join the conversation on the blog. I mean, that’s why I started tweeting such links years ago (and for a time, did the same on Facebook) — to encourage people to come join the discussion.

    They seldom do, though. Sometimes, they follow the link, read the post, and go BACK to social media to leave a comment. Which is frustrating.

    Maybe one day I’ll figure out the formula…

  15. Doug T

    Late posting….. Bush was worse than Trump?


    Ya’ll cannot be serious.

    It isn’t even close.

    Trump was and still is a danger to our very democracy, from wanting to imprison his political opponents and FBI agents, stripping environmental regulations, thumbing his nose at our allies and on and on.

    70 percent think this election was rigged. ….and Bush was worse? I cannot believe anyone could think that

  16. Pingback: SCDP Press Clips for November 13, 2020 – Sandlappers

  17. Cecil

    Brad, your summary judgment against straight-ticket voting is predicated on the assumption that it’s thoughtless. I agree that thoughtlessness led to the losses of Vince Sheheen and Mandy Powers Norrell — and the losses of Glenn Reese and Laurie Slade Funderburk, too. But my choice to vote straight-party this year (as in the case of every year) was thoughtful, even strategic, for two reasons: (a) having witnessed up close the inefficiencies and regressive impacts of gridlock, I’m all for one-party government when that party isn’t rooted in the state’s oldest conservative impulses; and (b) straight-ticket voting might have resulted in Vince Sheheen becoming “Senate Majority Leader” rather than “former Senator.” We’re where we are, sadly and truly, not because too many voters voted straight-ticket, but because too many voters voted straight-ticket conservative (over many, many decades), and too many others split their tickets in such ways that have prevented excellent progressives (and/or Democrats) from holding agenda-determinative leadership positions and offices.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, but I have to say back that thoughtless voting — and voting for a party instead of giving careful, direct consideration to the actual candidates contending for a position is the most common form of that that comes to mind — is always a bad thing, and not just bad when the OTHER side does it.

      If that’s not what you meant to say, forgive me for misunderstanding…

      1. Cecil

        Thanks for your response, Brad. You didn’t misunderstand, but I’ll take the moment to add a few lines to my earlier note.

        Ideally, every voter would take the time to examine every candidate on the ballot and make electoral choices after careful consideration of the candidates’ stated policy positions, and/or voting records, and their potential effectiveness in the office. Although it has been my decision to vote straight-ticket Democratic since my first chance at voting, I’ve still taken the time to look at sample ballots to catch the non-partisan contests that a straight-ticket vote wouldn’t catch, and to do my due diligence in asking which candidates for those nonpartisan seats come closest to representing my interests. Interests (and the grand-uncle of interests: ideology) have steered me in both my straight-ticket choices and the nonpartisan ones, as well as my votes on ballot questions.

        And it’s for that reason that even when the candidates who are caught up in my straight-ticket net aren’t ideal ones — and God knows, there’s a plenty of them — I sleep soundly at night knowing that even if I send a Democratic dud to represent me in the House or the Senate, that dud adds to the numeric strength of the party that better represents my interests, and my ideology, than the conservative party has and does.

        For example, like you, I voted for Nikki Setzler’s re-election, for all good reasons. But in the House, I’m represented by a fellow who may be good to his wife and children, and who may attend church every Sunday, and who may not cheat his customers or rob his neighbors, but who votes with the conservative leadership in the House at every opportunity. By my count, there’s a hundred or more like him in the House and Senate.

        Imagine if, during the past twenty years, Democratic candidates had run just as often as Republicans for public office. Imagine the party populations were reversed, and as many Democratic voters had voted straight-ticket for Democratic candidates as Republican voters have voted for Republican candidates. If that were the case, Vince Sheheen wouldn’t have lost a Senate seat last week; Vince would be traveling the nation today as a DNC official, having been a successful two-term governor, and having handed off that office to his old friend, former House Speaker James Smith. Mandy Powers Norrell would be Lieutenant Governor. And no one outside of South Carolina would recognize Nikki Haley’s name.

        Imagining the possibilities of a South Carolina in which those straight-ticket votes of mine had yielded fruit — instead of withering instantly on the vine, year upon year — is why I can’t bring myself to agree that straight-ticket voting is always a bad thing, no matter which party does it. Yes, thoughtless voting is a bad thing, every day and twice on Sundays; a body ought to know what he or she believes, and who’ll represent them well in that belief — or who will at least help comprise the governing majority that represents them in that belief. And thoughtless straight-ticket voting is a crime against one’s own intellect, one’s community, and one’s state and its future. That’s what delivered last week’s shameful outcomes, and it’s what keeps things neatly and squarely just as they are — namely, bad and gradually worsening — in our fair state.

        To take your thought a step further: I hear that some states have eliminated the straight-ticket voting option. I’d support doing that in South Carolina, if only to test my theory that it would weaken the chokehold of the conservative wing of our Republican Party on the state’s throat. What are the chances?

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