State House

Murrell Smith’s Biggest Problem Isn’t The Freedom Caucus

It’s his caucus …

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Powerful South Carolina House speaker Murrell Smith is facing growing dissension within his “Republican” ranks after the GOP establishment he leads – part of the Palmetto State’s ruling uniparty – sustained decisive losses in this week’s partisan primary elections.

Decisive – and expensive losses.

Smith and his status quo allies embarked on a months-long, no-holds-barred effort to eliminate the conservative wing of the GOP “supermajority” – a group of 17 lawmakers known as the Freedom Caucus. More than $2 million was spent on this effort, which featured candidates loyal to the establishment challenging nearly a dozen Freedom Caucus incumbents – while also running for several open seats.

How many incumbents did they oust? None.

Not a one …

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Not only did the Freedom Caucus retain all of its seats, it knocked off at least two status quo incumbents – and could wind up winning even more seats when GOP voters return to the polls in two weeks.

Initial estimates point to the Freedom Caucus picking up at least four seats in the S.C. General Assembly – and that’s before the runoff elections scheduled for later this month. Oh, it’s also before fence-sitting GOP lawmakers reassess the lay of the land in the aftermath of this week’s primary results.

To recap: House GOP leaders kicked conservative Republicans out of their caucus last year for refusing to sign a “loyalty oath” to the establishment. Status quo leaders also bribed challengers to run against Freedom Caucus members in the primary races – while simultaneously engaging in other tactics intended to silence dissent on the floor of the S.C. House.

Once they had their campaign stooges in place, the patently dishonest attack ads were unleashed.

The uniparty’s primary vehicle for going after the Freedom Caucus? The so-called “Palmetto Truth Project” – which our media outlet first exposed last spring.

Their secondary vehicle? The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, the Palmetto State’s largest media outlet, which penned numerous opinion-editorials and ran slanted “news” articles attacking the caucus.

None of it worked …

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“The Palmetto Truth Project blew up in the leadership’s face like a three-dollar pawn shop shotgun,” one of the defeated candidates who challenged a Freedom Caucus member told this media outlet.

In the aftermath of its electoral wins, the Freedom Caucus made no bones about its future plans – namely that Smith and other GOP leaders who targeted them for defeat would themselves be targeted in 2026. This prompted an “emergency meeting” of the House leadership in Columbia, S.C. following the returns – one which devolved into “chaotic finger-pointing” and “unrestrained recrimination,” according to a source who attended.

The chaotic postmortem meeting served to underscore the real problem facing Smith in confronting the fallout from a costly electoral defeat.

“It’s not the Freedom Caucus – it’s his caucus,” one lawmaker close to the State House drama told me this week. “He’s on thin ice within his own caucus.”

Actually, Smith was already on thin ice with rank-and-file “Republicans” before his multi-million dollar jihad against the Freedom Caucus came up empty – with lawmakers contrasting his allegedly caustic tone with the more amenable demeanor displayed by S.C. speaker pro tempore Tommy Pope.

“The prevailing observation over the course of the session was how Murrell treated everyone poorly as speaker and spoke down to them, whereas even in heated debate, Tommy Pope always addressed the body, when presiding, with respect,” a lobbyist tracking the debate told me. “Couple that with the fact that Murrell made everyone take a haircut on their member request stating there wasn’t enough money to go around, yet he sent a massive amount – estimated to be $50 million – back to Sumter.”

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Smith’s actions at the closed-door meeting – and in its aftermath – aren’t helping his cause, either. According to our sources, he blamed GOP majority leader Davey Hiott for the electoral defeats – and subsequently accused Pope of trying to leverage the losses for his own political advantage.

“He’s paranoid,” one Republican lawmaker told us. “Seeing shadows – and shooting at them.”

“He is on an island,” another source told us. “He was already on shaky ground, but the electoral defeats followed by members figuring out how much he was sending back to Sumter – after telling them there wasn’t enough money to go around for some of their requests – has created a perfect storm.”

“Someone within the House GOP caucus will challenge him for the gavel,” the source added.

Smith’s backers fired back at the allegation that he was hoarding money for Sumter at the expense of political pork in member districts.

“As far as their projects why would you put those in until you get the last budget back?” one Smith ally told me. “Wouldn’t you wait until the last fiscal estimate?”

South Carolina’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) is scheduled to meet next Thursday (June 20, 2024) to provide a final revenue estimate heading into the upcoming fiscal year – which is set to commence on July 1, 2024. Last month, this panel announced (.pdf) that lawmakers would have hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money to appropriate beyond the $40.1 billion they have already earmarked to spend in the coming fiscal year.

Smith’s chamber was supposed to meet this week to try and divvy up the money – but the special session was canceled on Friday as an agreement on the budget appeared to be out of reach.

Stay tuned to this media outlet as we continue to assess the fallout from last week’s election results – and their impact on the trajectory of the ship of state (and those who would seek to maintain control of the rudder).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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6 comments

Trevor Bauknight Top fan June 14, 2024 at 3:30 pm

Wow, I’ve never heard of someone unfairly sending money back to Sumter!

I guess that must really chafe in Charleston, Greenville and Columbia.

Reply
Jeff Mattox Top fan June 14, 2024 at 3:50 pm

I like to see the uniparty pigs squealing and blaming pigs for their failure to squash the people’s revolt. Pigs going to do what pigs going to do. Squeal little piggies, Come-on I know you can. Lol

Reply
River Top fan June 15, 2024 at 8:25 am

To the elected members of the SC House – Instead of spending millions on a power struggle, do you think maybe we could make good godly decisions, be good stewards of the people’s tax dollars, and do something productive for the people of South Carolina?

Reply
Anonymous June 16, 2024 at 11:53 pm

Corruption runs deep in the SCGOP, from the governor to the county chairs! Real Americans need real leadership! God is watching and he doesn’t like what he sees. Wake up America!!!

Reply
CongareeCatfish Top fan June 17, 2024 at 4:57 pm

Well the strife came to loggerheads….
“Why Johnny Ringo! You look like someone just walked over your grave!”
Only one walked away from this political fight.

Reply
Patten Watson Top fan June 18, 2024 at 6:55 am

Unfortunately the Post and Courier is taking on the tone of The State. Look at what happened to them.

Reply

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