By Paul V. DeMarco
Tom Rice and I have different political philosophies. On many controversial issues, we disagree. Yet, I have never felt more strongly about voting for a candidate than I do about voting for him.
This election cycle, rather than focusing on individual races, my goal is to do my part to repair American democracy. After being rammed broadside by Donald Trump and his acolytes, our ship of state is listing. What can I, as a single voter, do to repair the breach?
My answer is to elect Tom Rice. In South Carolina, voters can participate in whichever primary election they choose. I generally, although not always, vote in the Democratic primary since the traditional goals of the party, such as expanding access to health care and education, protecting the planet, and supporting the advancement of previously marginalized people, align with my values as a citizen and a Christian.
This election, there is no greater good than to stymie Trump-endorsed candidates. This is not because they have the same policy positions as Trump. The conservative agenda that Trump advocated during his presidency must be part of the American debate. Many of Trump’s policies, such as lower taxes, less regulation, gun rights, restricting abortion and immigration, and renegotiating trade deals, can be robustly defended. But Donald Trump the man is a threat to our country. He came within a whisker of upending our nearly 250-year-old tradition of orderly transfers of power. If Mike Pence had capitulated to his demands and failed to certify the electoral votes on January 6th, we would have faced a constitutional crisis unlike any this country has seen.
Rice’s strongest opponent, Russell Fry, a state legislator from Horry County, is a Trump lackey. He dutifully recites the lie that Trump won the 2020 election and if a similar circumstance were to arise in 2024, he would undoubtedly choose to overturn a fair election in order to seat his party’s candidate.
While many politicians on both sides lack spine, the invertebrate nature of Republican officeholders and candidates since Trump was elected has been noteworthy. Even more extraordinary, rather than being celebrated for upholding the Constitution, Rice and others who voted to impeach Donald Trump are being drummed out of the party.
I have been politically active for more than 40 years. Until recently, I had confidence that the vast majority of our elected leaders, regardless of party, had an unwavering commitment to democracy. It was a given that the will of the people would be respected, that presidential candidates who had lost even the closest of elections, as Al Gore did in 2000, would, once their legal challenges had concluded, encourage their countrymen and women to put aside their divisions and come together behind the victor. After the Supreme Court had rendered its decision in Bush v. Gore, Gore said “partisan rancor must now be put aside…for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
That centuries-old understanding of presidential decorum changed with Trump. After his legal challenges had been exhausted, Trump encouraged his supporters to rally on January 6th, hoping the crowd would do for him what the courts would not. He waited in silence for three hours as a mob attempted violently to overturn the election. When he finally sent out a video asking them to disperse, he said, “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it… We love you. You’re very special.” Trump’s behavior that day was mendacious, despicable, and impeachable. Tom Rice recognized that.
If you are a Democrat, you may worry about not participating in your usual primary. However, this June 14, the pickings are slim on the Democratic side. No Democrat opted to challenge Rice. In the statewide races on the ballot that day, Democrats fielded candidates for only three of six positions: governor, state superintendent of education, and U.S. Senate. Odds are that none of the Democratic primary victors will win in November. Please check your local city and county races (you may have to call your voter registration office about these). Fortunately for me, there are no local Democrats that I support up for re-election. But even if there were, there is nothing more important to me than voting for Rice. Almost certainly Rice will make a runoff, most likely against Fry. Having voted in the Republican primary, I will be eligible to vote in the runoff. Remember, if you vote in the Democratic primary, you cannot vote in a Republican runoff.
It’s easy to take votes that are both popular and good for the country. But the true measure of officeholders is what they do when forced to choose between the two. Rice, Pence and a few of their Republican colleagues showed courage in the aftermath of the January 6 attack, for which we should all be grateful. Republicans, Democrats, and independents, I urge you to re-elect Tom Rice.
A version of this column appeared in the Florence Morning News on 5/25/22. I have no affiliation with the Rice campaign and had no communication with it before the column was published.