IS AGING POLITICO THE GOP’S 2018 FRONTRUNNER?
S.C. lieutenant governor Henry McMaster has seen his stock rise in Palmetto political circles over the last few months. His establishment-bucking “First in the South” endorsement of eventual GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump provided him with a big boost, and his support of several establishment “Republican” lawmakers in state elections in June dramatically expanded his influence at the S.C. State House.
All of this went down, coincidentally, at a time when governor Nikki Haley‘s influence plunged precipitously at home (and on the national stage).
So … what does McMaster plan on doing with his newfound prestige?
Conventional political wisdom holds that he will begin maneuvering for a 2018 gubernatorial bid – leveraging his elevated political stock in pursuit of the office that eluded him in 2010.
Assuming such a candidacy is in the works, McMaster would be – on paper, anyway – a formidable candidate.
He would be the highest-ranking “Republican” on the ticket. He would have the backing of several powerful establishment “Republican” politicians. And he would have the early inside track on channeling Trump’s populist appeal – which should remain a potent force among GOP primary voters no matter what happens in the 2016 presidential election.
Additionally, McMaster appears to have freed himself of the oppressive political orbit of neo-Confederate political consultant Richard Quinn (whose first choice for governor, current S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson, has seen his political career implode over the last few months).
Severing himself from “the Quinndom” means McMaster would likely be receiving political advice that benefitted him for a change.
He would need it, too – because as promising as his candidacy looks on paper, a gubernatorial campaign is fraught with potential political landmines for the man known around the State House as “Foghorn Leghorn.”
Aside from his longtime affiliation with Quinn’s neo-Confederates, McMaster has a history of associating with various “whites only” organizations. That’s something a candidate can explain away in a down ballot race, but McMaster’s past would be subjected to far more intense scrutiny assuming he undertakes a gubernatorial bid.
McMaster also has a campaign finance scandal to contend with – as well as the crazy antics of his brothers, several of whom can’t seem to stay out of trouble with the law.
Never the sharpest tool in the shed, McMaster has also been dogged in recent years by rumors of dementia – although he and his aides have aggressively pushed back against those allegations.
If elected governor in 2018, McMaster would turn 72 years old just four months after taking the oath of office. Is that too old? Considering the Palmetto State is currently run by a diminutive 84-year-old liberal, probably not.
McMaster’s biggest hurdle, though, is his status as the consummate political insider. Certainly his endorsement of Trump helped mitigate that perception – and gives him an “in” with the anti-establishment crowd – but he hardly seems eager to embrace the aggressive reform agenda South Carolina needs.
So … what will McMaster do?
Sources close to the veteran politician tell us his plans are currently “unsettled” – but that he is leaning against a gubernatorial bid at this point.
“If Haley were to leave office early he would absolutely campaign as an incumbent,” one McMaster confidant told us. “But I don’t see him engaging an open primary in 2018.”
Last time we checked in on the 2018 race, McMaster was viewed as a “lock” to run. If he’s leaning against such a bid, that would have major repercussions on the upcoming campaign.
S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope and former Democratic lieutenant governor Yancey McGill have already declared themselves as candidates for the GOP nomination in 2018 – and U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney and Lowcountry attorney Catherine Templeton are widely expected to join them next year.
Wilson is also leaning toward a gubernatorial bid – although he will be lucky to keep his current job in the aftermath of his recent political implosion.
S.C. Senator Tom Davis, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, S.C. Rep. Kirkman Finlay, Upstate solicitor Walt Wilkins and Columbia, S.C. businessman and political donor Bill Stern are also mulling bids – although sources tell us Stern is now “leaning against” running.
And Davis is being touted as a possible Libertarian candidate.
Finally, there are persistent rumors that U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford might seek the office he held from 2003-11. Sanford still has $1 million remaining in his 2006 gubernatorial reelection account – although he is viewed as unelectable statewide (and exceedingly vulnerable in his own congressional district).
Obviously this list is not exhaustive … and constantly evolving.
We’ll keep our readers in the loop as we continue reading the tea leaves in anticipation of the 2018 campaign.