Politics

Palmetto Political Stock Index – 2/25/2024

Trump racks up a big win, Haley becomes an even bigger long shot, and what Saturday’s results say about Republican prospects in November.

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The South Carolina Republican presidential primary is in the rearview mirror now, but its impact will be felt for a long time to come. Whose stock is up and whose is down as a result? Let’s roll!

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Over the last eleven months, founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell have been monitoring developments in this race via our Palmetto Political Stock Index. Each update represents an evaluation of how our subjects fared over the past seven days. Positive reports don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t indicative of vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em. Also, just because your favorite/ least favorite politician isn’t on this week’s report doesn’t mean we aren’t still tracking them. Look for them in upcoming editions … and, of course, you can check prior installments to see how we’ve covered them in the past.

To get your historical fix, click here. For last week’s index, click here. Got a hot “stock tip” for our consideration? Email Will (here) and/ or Mark (here). Just make sure to include “Palmetto Political Stock Index” in the subject line.


SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: WINNERS

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DONALD TRUMP

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The polls said all along Donald Trump was on track to win “bigly” in the Palmetto State. And for once, the polls were right. He easily trounced Nikki Haley on Saturday, making him 4-0 in the quartet of contests held so far. Trump was the big winner, of course. But plenty of other South Carolina politicians came out smelling like a rose, too.

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HENRY MCMASTER

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Chief among them was the state’s chief executive. Henry McMaster caught the political world by surprise when he endorsed Trump in February 2016 while still lieutenant governor. And seldom has a bet hit a jackpot as big as the one McMaster got. Eight years later, it’s still paying off for him. He was at Trump’s side at Saturday night’s victory celebration in Columbia.

With the bulk of the S.C. GOP stratosphere in Trump’s camp, it can be argued they all were winners. But two officials in particular merit mentioning here. 

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ALAN WILSON

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Alan Wilson received an especially warm Trump shoutout Saturday night. Should Trump be reelected in November, having a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would come in mighty helpful for the attorney general’s future plans. (Just ask McMaster, Wilson’s predecessor as AG.)

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NANCY MACE

SC first congressional district candidate Nancy Mace

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Next, consider Nancy Mace. Her on-again, off-again relationship with Trump could easily be the plot of a TV soap opera. She was for him, until she was against him, until they made up and she was for him again. Her recent return trip on the Trump Train was intended to shore up Mace’s vulnerable right flank in her renomination bid. While it will probably help smooth out things with the MAGA camp, Haley’s strong showing in the Lowcountry likely created new headaches for the second-term congresswoman with the Never Trumpers/Establishment crowd. And with Mace already facing several primary challengers, she needs all the friends she can find.

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WILLIAM TIMMONS

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Then there’s William Timmons, himself locked in an even tougher battle to hang on to his Upstate congressional seat. His self-inflicted wound sustained during last year’s bungled going public with his messy marital affair seriously hobbled his reelection prospects. Given the deep wellspring of affection for the former president in his district, Timmons’ campaign would have immediately ended had he endorsed Haley. Siding with Trump helped him sidestep a political landmine. Unfortunately for Timmons, an entire minefield of other issues still confronts him. But at least he made it through the presidential primary with all his limbs attached.


SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY: LOSERS

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NIKKI HALEY

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On the flip side of the coin are the losers. And Nikki Haley herself tops that pack. Everywhere the campaign trail has led so far this year turned into a dead-end for her. It was
“Close, but no cigar” in Iowa, New Hampshire, and now South Carolina; in Nevada, she even lost a one-candidate primary to “None of the above.” Ouch!

But Saturday’s defeat here was especially mortifying for her. Being so widely rejected on your home turf makes a hard sell even harder. The legendary salesman Zig Ziglar probably couldn’t close that one. It’s difficult to forge ahead while carrying such a heavy rebuke at the polls on your back.

Yet that is precisely what Haley is doing. She loves portraying herself as a modern Joan of Arc, offering herself up as a martyr as the MAGA flames grow hotter all around her. However, the immediate primary calendar offers little promise of being a fire extinguisher.

There’s Michigan on Tuesday, which is solidly in Trump’s corner. The story is much the same in many of the 15 states (plus American Samoa, for what that’s worth) participating in March 5’s Super Tuesday massive delegate haul. Fully one-third of them are up for grabs that day.

Speculation is increasingly swirling that Haley may be tempted to bolt the GOP and run as an independent. There’s talk of her being wooed by the budding No Labels Party, which is trying to run a Republican-Democratic fusion ticket in November. Given Haley’s appeal to independents and moderate Democrats fed up with Joe Biden, there’s a certain degree of logic to the prospect.

But jumping the GOP ship would carry enormous political risk. Candidates in either party who leave their lane instantly become persona non grata to the folks they left behind. Running as an independent or as a third-party candidate would forever slam the Republican door shut in Haley’s face. Meaning no chance for a return run in 2028. So, pursuing the No Labels/independent option would be an all-or-nothing undertaking for Haley. As they said in Medieval times, “If you’re going to kill the king, you’d better kill the king.” Because the wrath from scorned Republicans would be hot enough to turn steel into molten glass. 

Haley would do well to remember the words of Clint Eastwood’s famous “Dirty Harry” character: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. ‘Do I feel lucky?’”

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RALPH NORMAN

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Another loser is Ralph Norman. A card-carrying member of the Freedom Caucus in Congress, he raised some eyebrows when he endorsed the former governor last year. Perhaps that shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise. After all, Haley and Norman had served together in the state legislature. They share an understanding of the urgent need to get Uncle Sam’s financial house in order. And Haley endorsed Norman when he first ran for Congress in 2017.

While backing the non-MAGA candidate carries no immediate risk to Norman’s reelection bid in the 5th Congressional District, the same might not hold true for Norman’s future plans. It is widely believed he is casting one eye on the governor’s office and the other on U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Senate seat. Both will be on the ballot in 2026. Should he decide to go for either, he would have a lot of fences to mend with the Republican Party’s Trump wing.

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DREW MCKISSICK

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Speaking of fence-mending, tongues are wagging around the state today about how SCGOP chair Drew McKissick was booed at Saturday’s Trump confab in Columbia. The former president seemed mildly startled by the reaction (though he gamely rolled with the punches and pressed on with the laundry list of Republican luminaries he was thanking). Although it was brief, the incident was yet another reminder that the GOP in South Carolina is far from one big happy family. The Addams Family is more like it, with various branches and offshoots that are at each other’s throats. While the catcalls and hisses may have been directed at McKissick personally Saturday, they were a reminder of the pressure that’s building under the surface of the state’s dominant political party. Could a nasty primary battle for some high-profile office be enough to make it erupt with the fury of Mount St. Helens in 2026?

There is one other important, though inconspicuous, loser following the primary… 

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REPUBLICANS/DONALD TRUMP?

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By any measure, Trump’s 59.8 to 39.5 percent sweep on Saturday was commanding. (Nabbing 47 of the state’s 50 delegates up for grabs was even more important.) But many political pros all over the state—consultants, campaign managers and staffers, and serious activists—have been asking the same question to one another in unsettled whispers: “Why wasn’t it bigger?”

A major election, like a big football game, draws plenty of predictions ahead of time about the final numbers. And just like in sports, those conjectures are all over the place. The numbers we kept hearing most of all last week from those who earn their living in politics was Trump would win in the 25-28 percent range. A few brave souls pegged it closer to 30, while several dipped to the 23-24 percent level. Hardly anyone we spoke with put it at the 20.3 Trump actually got.

So, what happened?

The usual Democrat crossovers certainly were a factor. Though exit polling suggests, they didn’t account for all of it.

A better explanation likely lies in the large number of people who have moved to South Carolina in this decade. While many of them may be Republicans, they aren’t as deeply red as the homegrown variety we’re accustomed to seeing. They could force GOP candidates in statewide races to recalibrate their messaging this fall and beyond.

Finally, one stat stands apart from all the rest. Fox News’s exit polling found a whopping 59 percent of Haley voters said they would not vote for Trump in November if he is the Republican nominee. That number is so large that it bears a closer look.

Emotions frequently run white hot at election time. A certain percentage of that response came in the heat of the moment. Some of those people will meander back into the Republican fold when tempers cool down.

But even if 19 percent of that 59 figure peels off, it still leaves 40 percent of the 40 percent who on Saturday said “No way, no how” to Trump. And if a Trump-Biden II: The Sequel rematch emerges, that block could pose a problem for Republicans while creating an opportunity for Democrats.

The GOP’s dilemma is, of course, being denied votes it can’t afford to lose. The Democrats’ opening is enticing those dissatisfied Republicans by saying, “Look, Biden isn’t perfect. But he’s better than Trump.” It wouldn’t be a hard sell.

Finally, this much remains true. As we close the books on Saturday’s voting, we can proudly say, “South Carolina always puts on a good show every presidential election year. And we delivered again in 2024.”

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