By Paul V. DeMarco
Nikki Haley faces stiff head winds as she tries to become the Republican nominee for president. If only the Republican base participates in state Republican primaries, Trump wins going away. Her only path to the nomination is for independents and centrist Democrats to back her.
The majority of Americans recognize the unique threat Trump poses to democracy. Even his supporters are known to call him a “disrupter” or a “wrecking ball.” For them, his positives outweigh his innumerable negatives. They are willing to roll the dice on a second Trump presidency. I am not so sanguine. Trump is too unpredictable, too big a risk.
Our crucial national task in the primaries is to ensure that Trump is defeated. Almost anyone alive would be a better option than Trump. Surrounded with intelligent, capable advisors, any thoughtful, humble American would be superior. I know some teenagers to whom I would gladly hand over the reins of this country if it were them or Trump.
Biden is old and fails to excite. He has numerous policy positions that can be legitimately opposed. But he will not wreck the ship of state. If he loses in 2024, he will not spend his lame duck period trying to subvert the will of the people and remain in office, nor when he leaves office use the next four years to lie about the result.
The risk in my strategy is that Haley becomes the Republican nominee and beats Biden in the general. According to polls about a head-to-head contest with Biden, she is a stronger candidate than Trump. But I am willing to accept a Biden loss to ensure that Trump has no chance to be president again.
Haley, of course, has her own set of drawbacks about which I will write if she is the nominee. But she was a capable governor and has expressed dismay over January 6th, calling it a “terrible day.” She is willing to state the obvious truth that Trump lost in 2020, which leads me to believe that she would not engage in Trump’s corrosive brand of election denialism if she loses.
Here’s my plan. The SC Democratic presidential primary is February 3rd. The only candidates on the ballot beside Joe Biden are Dean Phillips, a congressman from Minnesota, and Marianne Williamson, neither of whom have a chance. Although I usually vote for the Democrat and voted for Biden in 2020, I will sit this primary out. Instead, I will wait until February 24 and vote in the Republican primary for Haley (remember a voter can only vote in one party’s primary).
Partisans on both sides will object to this. I employed the same approach in the 2022 US House 7th District Republican primary between incumbent Tom Rice and several challengers, including the eventually winner, Russell Fry. Since there were no pivotal races on the Democratic side, I voted in the Republican primary for Rice. Despite having major philosophical differences with Rice, I felt he had served my district well. He was one of the few Republicans brave enough to vote to impeach Trump for his part in January 6th.
I wrote a column titled, “Democrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice,” to which Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party wrote a rebuttal, arguing that people like me shouldn’t be allowed to meddle in the Republican primary and renewing the call that the Legislature pass a law forcing voters to register as Republicans or Democrats and be confined to that primary.
Folks like Mr. McKissick seem to view party affiliation as a deeply imprinted, immutable characteristic. One must be fully baptized into Republicanism and conform religiously to every tenet. If you fail to do so, you are consigned to the purgatory of RINOism. There are, of course, mirror images of McKissick on the Democratic side.
This strict ideological view defies the shifting moods and desires of the body politic. First of all, most voters hold their party affiliation loosely and are willing to vote for an inspirational candidate of their second-choice party – the Reagan Democrats were a prime example of this.
Second, the modern political parties have shifted seismically in the last 75 years. The Democrats were the party of white segregationists until the 1960s when Strom Thurmond and Richard Nixon attracted them to the Republicans. For decades after FDR’s New Deal, the Democrats were considered the party of the worker. Until recently, Republicans were hawks and Democrats were doves. But all that has been scrambled. Many now see the Democrats as the party of the rich, dominated by economic, academic, and cultural elites who are blind to the everyday reality of working people. Meanwhile, it’s the Democrats who support the war in Ukraine while a significant fraction of Republicans have retreated into isolationism.
So I invite you to consider voting for your country rather than your party. Whether Haley or Biden wins in 2024 is less important than Trump never being allowed to wield again the enormous power of the presidency. Neither Haley or Biden will threaten the democratic foundation on which our country rests. Trump’s most enduring legacy will be the lesson that our system is fragile and must be guarded from politicians who care more about their own power than honoring democratic principles. We don’t need a second kick from that mule.
A version of this column appeared in the January 17tt edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.