The Secret of South Carolina

By Frum, David | Newsweek, January 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Secret of South Carolina


Frum, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Frum

South Carolina should be the perfect Tea Party state: Southern, conservative, lots of evangelicals, lots of retirees.

Yet historically, this state has served as the GOP establishment's "firewall." True to form, when it votes on Jan. 21, South Carolina looks like it will be sending yet another relatively moderate frontrunner on the road to the nomination.

Patronage-conscious South Carolinians have always preferred to back a winner. They don't ask for favors in advance. But they do like to be able to remind an elected official, "I supported you" --which means the official needs to be somebody who can get himself elected in the first place. As one South Carolina leader puts it: "We choose our legislators to raise a ruckus. But when we choose our governors and presidents, we choose people who won't embarrass us."

But something else may be going on too. Enthusiasm for the Tea Party may be ebbing in South Carolina as the state confronts economic reality.

To serve big local employers BMW and Michelin, the port of Charleston needs to deepen its harbor. The cost will be huge. Yet the state's Tea Party senator, Jim DeMint, has opposed federal funding for the Charleston project--even as improvements begin at the competing port of Savannah, Ga. Meanwhile, South Carolina's less ideological senior senator, Lindsey Graham, has fought hard for federal funds for the Charleston port. …

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