One of the hottest topics in South Carolina this spring was a volatile schism within the Palmetto State’s “Republican” activist community – one which pitted (and still pits) – grassroots conservatives versus the establishment wing of the party.
Beyond that battle, a furious fight is underway within the conservative wing of the S.C. Republican Party (SCGOP) – with warring ideologues eager to claim the true mantle of “conservatism” (whatever that word even means these days). These ideologues are also vigorously vying to inherit the “Make America Great Again” mantra popularized by former U.S. president Donald Trump – who as irony would have it has been curiously pro-establishment in his “Republican” interventions in South Carolina, a pivotal early-voting state for Democrats and Republicans alike.
“The deep divisions within the GOP are expected to have significant repercussion in both the upcoming 2022 partisan primary elections as well as the 2024 ‘First in the South’ GOP presidential primary race,” I noted back in July when this schism flared up.
This ongoing fight has been conflated by the national mainstream media as some sort of takeover of the SCGOP by adherents of QAnon – an amorphous assemblage of online provocateurs which has become a catch-all for right-wing conspiracy theories (and theorists).
The basis for this conflation? The recent election of Tracey Beanz as a GOP executive committee member in Horry county. Beanz is one of the right-wing activists credited with helping QAnon “go mainstream” in 2017. Also, former Trump photographer Gene Ho – who is currently campaigning for mayor of Myrtle Beach – has previously promoted QAnon merchandise on his website.
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Wait, though … does this amount to a Q “infiltration” of Republicanism in the Palmetto State? Yes, according to the national MSM …
“Ho’s run for mayor of the South Carolina city is a prime example of how far-right conspiracy theorists have pivoted from largely promoting misinformation online to focusing on efforts to affect change in the real-world political sphere, all while toeing the ever-winnowing line between mainstream respectability and going full-throttle Q,” noted EJ Dickson in a story that ran in the pages of Rolling Stone earlier this month. “It’s a strategy that’s yielding dividends, as the ranks of elected officials with ties to the movement grows – particularly in South Carolina.”
Wait … what? The “ranks of elected officials” with ties to QAnon is growing in South Carolina?
I cover politics in the Palmetto State closer than anyone and this is the first I have heard of that …
Dickson’s statement struck me as a pretty bold … but was it accurate? No. Aside from state representative Lin Bennett – who briefly touted (then recanted) her support for the group on social media three years ago – where, exactly, would one go to observe the “growing ranks” of QAnon adherents in elected office in South Carolina?
I asked Dickson to provide me with some documentation for her claim … but did not immediately receive a reply from her. If she offers up anything to justify her pronouncement, I will be sure to pass that along to my readers.
(Click to view)
(Via: Gene Ho Photography)
That’s not the only thing Rolling Stone played fast and loose with, though. The man at the heart of the story – Gene Ho (above, with Trump) – simply isn’t a credible candidate. Ho’s bid for mayor of Myrtle Beach – which pits him against incumbent mayor Brenda Bethune and three others – has failed to gain any traction. Ho is currently out of money, and pollsters tracking the race tell me he is unlikely to generate significant popular support when Myrtle Beach voters cast their ballots next month.
So I ask again … how does one county-level party official, a fringe candidate for municipal office and a state representative (who has since recanted her position) constitute a “Q takeover?”
Easy … it doesn’t. And while I get this is a story the national media desperately wants to tell, that doesn’t make it truthful.
Back to the actual fight, then …
For those of you unfamiliar with the lay of the political land in South Carolina, the GOP dominates at the ballot box. And based on the nationalization of politics seen in the most recent election, that dominance is expanding. The party holds every single statewide office, both U.S. Senate seats and six of seven congressional districts (a delegation edge that will be further firmed up during the upcoming redistricting process).
Hell, Democrats don’t even bother to field candidates in many statewide or congressional races … and the perpetual minority party is, like the SCGOP, badly divided.
More importantly, “Republicans” hold near-supermajorities in both the S.C. Senate and House of Representatives, where the real influence in the Palmetto State is wielded (including the power to pick judges).
Of course, if you think this “Republican” dominance means South Carolina is home to some sort of robust, right-wing revolution, think again. If anything, the opposite is true.
First, there’s friggin’ Lindsey Graham – a political chameleon who someone manages to get reelected every six years even though conservatives claim to hate him. Next, there’s the state’s unrepentantly “big gubmint” crony capitalist governor, Henry McMaster – a caricature of the Old South who narrowly held onto his office in 2018 thanks to an eleventh-hour Trump endorsement. Finally, there is the GOP’s legislative “supermajority” – which has labored to produce (wait for it) the most liberal “Republican-controlled” legislative branch in the country for two years running.
South Carolina is a bastion of many things … but make no mistake: Conservatism is not one of them.
Next weekend, two of the SCGOP’s warring factions will face off in Myrtle Beach – which along with Greenville county (in the socially conservative Upstate region of the Palmetto State) has become ground zero for the ongoing schism. Beginning on Friday, October 29, the SCGOP is hosting a “First in the South Republican Action Conference” – or “FITS-RAC,” as its organizers are referring to the gathering. Really? FITS? (Sighs).
“This will be largest, most intensive political training event in the SCGOP’s history!” organizers claim. “Our guest speakers will cover topics like election integrity, defending the rule of law, immigration, national security, school choice, minority outreach, and MORE!”
According to Beanz, she and other Horry Republicans tried to work with SCGOP officials on this event – but were rebuffed by party chairman Drew McKissick, who is apparently still upset that she and other Horry county conservatives opposed his candidacy for state chairman back in May.
“Our county party leadership has been reaching out to the SCGOP leadership to assist them with this event for the past several months,” Beanz wrote in an email to her supporters earlier this month. “They’ve completely ignored our requests. We wanted to come together in the spirit of unity.”
“So, you’ve got an SCGOP event, in OUR COUNTY, and the leadership of the SCGOP has decided the ‘unwashed’ can’t be involved with it,” she continued.
Because the party refused to allow her to participate in the event, Beanz is directing her supporters to attend a rival gathering – the so-called “I Pledge Allegiance Tour.” That event will also kick off on Friday, October 29 at the John T. Rhodes Myrtle Beach Sports Center. It will feature Si Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and conservative commentators Diamond and Silk, among others.
Horry county activist and precinct chairman Steve Hoffman made no bones about which event he would be attending, calling the official party event “the largest gathering of RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) east of the Mississippi.”
“The other event is for those Republicans who are true conservatives and believe in the Constitution, and individual and economic freedom,” Hoffman wrote, referring to the “I Pledge Allegiance” event.
Personally, I am not endorsing (or attending) either of these events … and for what it’s worth, I think there are probably good people (as well as stark raving crazies) in both camps.
One thing is clear, though: The deep divisions within the SCGOP that were on display back in the spring are only intensifying the closer we get to the 2022 election cycle. Now the only question is this: Will Democrats ever figure out a way to exploit these divisions?
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. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that University of South Carolina Gamecocks’ lid pictured above).
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