GOP governor's race looks like a race to bottom

Posted

So three of South Carolina's Republican candidates for governor descended on Charleston Friday night to kiss Steve Bannon's ring.

They fussed and fawned over the poster boy for white nationalists and alt-righters like a bunch of teenyboppers at a Justin Bieber concert.

During The Citadel Republican Society dinner, they competed for the former Trump strategist's affections by trying to out-outsider each other.

"The concentration of power in our state Legislature must be undone," Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant told the crowd.

Bryant, mind you, has been in the Legislature nearly 14 years.

"We're here tonight to welcome a patriot, a fighter, a conservative who speaks for the rest of us," said Catherine Templeton.

Who's us? Templeton worked in the Haley administration for five years and was state co-chair of establishment candidate Jeb Bush's presidential campaign last year. In the 2010 governor's race, she voted for the Democrat.

"I've heard two people talk like that," Gov. Henry McMaster said, reminding everyone he was the first to endorse the president. "One is Steve Bannon and the other is Donald Trump. Nobody did more to elect Donald Trump than Steve Bannon."

And all three candidates hope the Grim Reaper will do the same for them.

Wicked games

The question is, why would these three throw themselves at a scruffy, foul-mouthed man who didn't even bother to dress up for his own fancy dinner talk?

Honestly, it's because they don't hold the voters of South Carolina in very high esteem.

They believe the easiest path to victory in the GOP primary is the low road, and Bannon drives the pace car. After all, he got Trump elected.

Templeton has been the most brazen. She's a savvy Lowcountry attorney who, during her years of government work, was widely praised from both sides of the aisle. But now she acts like she's Johnny Reb.

She gushes about the Confederacy nonstop, pretends the "liberal media" has declared war on her and claims people have called her a racist. Which suggests she believes that will ingratiate her to voters.

It's extremely cynical, and she knows it.

At least for Bryant, this isn't much of an act. After all, in 2008 he posted a picture on his campaign website comparing Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden. He removed it after he was criticized and sheepishly admitted he didn't really think the Democratic nominee for president was a terrorist.

He'd just better hope nobody remembers that - gasp - he once supported John McCain for president.

Meanwhile, the governor is having a hard time playing the outsider, seeing as how he's been a party insider since Strom Thurmond was Trump's age. Literally.

McMaster was the Republican party chairman longer than Moses wandered the desert, served as state attorney general and lieutenant governor before taking over when Gov. Nikki Haley punched her golden ticket.

After all that, the only low-road street cred he has is the fact that he was the first elected official to endorse Trump.

A muddy spring

You'd think McMaster's close personal friendship, and recent joint campaign appearance, with the president would be enough to cinch this thing.

Think again.

During his Friday talk, Bannon mentioned Templeton and Bryant a couple times each but never said boo about poor Henry. That's gotta hurt.

Perhaps that's because McMaster isn't nearly fringe enough for the alt-right. Bannon spoke Friday about destroying the Republican establishment and getting rid of folks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A line that, by the way, was met with raucous applause in a room full of Republicans.

Bannon also reiterated his support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s. Bannon said it would take more evidence - beyond the word of four alleged victims and a dozen corroborating witnesses - to make him reconsider.

This from a guy whose fans believed Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint on the irrefutable evidence that "cheese pizza" has the same initials as "child pornography."

This is the baloney that passes itself off as politics these days. Instead of meaningful public discourse, our candidates for governor want to roll around by tiki-torch light with a guy who routinely trades in racially tinged, misogynistic and anti-religious remarks. GOP candidate Yancey McGill, who avoided this clown show, looks like an absolute statesman by comparison.

Obviously, these three candidates believe South Carolina voters will eschew serious policy discussions in favor of divisive rhetoric and hypocrisy - again.

The sad thing is, they probably aren't wrong.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.