For several weeks, my website has been covering what amounts to a pitched battle between two warring factions of activists vying for control of the South Carolina “Republican” party (SCGOP). Depending on who you ask, this battle pits the “establishment” and the “conservative” wings of the party against one another – although both factions would likely dispute those characterizations.
The “establishment” – led by second-term incumbent chairman Drew McKissick – considers itself to be the true “conservative” wing of the party. As for the insurgency of right-wingers eager to take over? They are dismissed as mere “whack-a-doodles.”
Or worse …
Meanwhile the “conservatives” describe themselves as patriots – and refer to their establishment rivals as “Republicans in Name Only,” or RINOs.
At the head of the right-wing insurgency is Lin Wood – the famed First Amendment lawyer whose candidacy (circus?) has emerged as an existential threat to the established “Republican” order in the Palmetto State.
Wood, 68, moved from Georgia to South Carolina earlier this year to challenge McKissick – something he is doing far more viably than anyone anticipated in light of the many unorthodox views he has espoused.
Wood’s bid is supported by MySCGOP.com – a group of grassroots activists which has advocated on behalf of a “purge” of what it calls the “RINO establishment elite” in the Palmetto State.
Working in this group’s favor? A “do-nothing” GOP legislative supermajority … one which continues to expand government by leaps and bounds while preserving an anti-competitive economic climate. Which reminds me: McKissick’s problems with conservatives began last spring when he broke with party tradition and endorsed multiple fiscal liberals in competitive 2020 primary elections – violating a longstanding presumption of party neutrality.
MySCGOP.com has scored some unexpected victories in the battle for state party delegates – although McKissick backers insist the 52-year-old incumbent enjoys an insurmountable lead when it comes to securing a majority of these 870 votes.
Are they correct? Or are Wood supporters justified in their belief that SCGOP leaders intend to rig the election in McKissick’s favor?
We will find out for sure (maybe) on Saturday, May 15, 2021 when the SCGOP hosts what is being referred to as a “hybrid” convention. Wait … what exactly is a “hybrid” convention?
Good question …
Last week, party leaders voted not to hold a statewide in-person convention due to lingering concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, county parties will host in-person “caucuses” at local level. At these meetings, delegates will cast their votes for party chairman (and three supporting statewide party offices) via paper ballot.
These paper ballots will be reported to the SCGOP “credentials committee” in Columbia, S.C. – which will tabulate and release the final results of the election.
This “hybrid” model is partially consistent with what I recommended the party should do last month … but my guess is its implementation will leave plenty of unanswered questions in the aftermath of the voting.
Which would only fuel further discord within the party …
Anyway, over the weekend a pair of mainstream media reports on this evolving drama appeared – one written by Jamie Lovegrove of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier and the other penned by Marc Caputo of Politico.
According to Lovegrove’s account, Wood’s “turbulent” candidacy shocked many political observers seeing as the SCGOP outperformed expectations at the polls last fall – and seeing as McKissick had already received Trump’s endorsement in the race (Trump has since doubled down in his support of the embattled chairman).
Lovegrove accused Wood of “spraying a plethora of innuendos at a wide range of targets” – engaging in a patter of behavior in which he “often implies political figures are engaged in nefarious behavior before adding that he’s not directly accusing them of anything, only saying they should be investigated.”
Wood is portrayed a bit less negatively in Caputo’s narrative – although several current and former SCGOP officials were permitted to lob some rhetorical grenades at his supporters.
One of them – outgoing Greenville county GOP chairman Nate Leupp – called Wood’s supporters “pitchfork- and torch-bearers.” Meanwhile former SCGOP chairman Chad Connelly referred to them as “kamikazes, ne’er-do-wells and malcontents.”
“They’re not Republicans. They’re not conservative. They’re anarchists,” Connelly told Caputo.
Name-calling aside, this battle – and its aftermath – could have a lasting impact on the Republican brand in the Palmetto State (and beyond). Most immediately, I expect the deep divisions exposed by this campaign to expand exponentially across dozens of contested races during the 2022 Republican primary election cycle. Also, look for those widening fault lines to outright erupt ahead of the 2024 “First in the South” presidential primary (assuming the party agrees to hold a primary this go-round).
Bottom line? The GOP – a party that is already badly fractured – could find itself facing an irreparable rift in the not-too-distant future.
Assuming it isn’t facing one already.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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