It’s widely reported around Washington that President Trump is none-too-pleased to have put his neck on the line in Alabama by endorsing Luther Strange for reelection. Strange, a politician who rose to the Senate by appointment following Senator Jeff Sessions ascending to Attorney General, was never deeply liked. The former Alabama Attorney General had a lackluster tenure as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, and he was never viewed by Alabama voters as their choice for U.S. Senate.
President Trump flew in on Air Force One in an attempt to shift the balance of the race away from conservative challenger Roy Moore, but to no avail. Voters showed-up to see the President, but no one even cared that Luther Strange shared the stage. After Strange was shellacked by Judge Moore, Trump took the loss as an affront to his popularity with Republican voters.
Given the Commander-In-Chief’s disappointment in Alabama, one has to wonder why the President came to South Carolina tonight.
As a local Republican Party official and a political talk radio show host in South Carolina, I can say with some authority that the parallels between Luther Strange in Alabama and Henry McMaster in South Carolina are uncanny.
Governor McMaster was an early endorser of Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries and has benefitted from the President’s rise to the White House. After the President nominated former Governor Nikki Haley to be U.N. Ambassador, and rumored 2018 gubernatorial candidate Mick Mulvaney to be White House Budget Director, it seemed like Henry McMaster’s lock on state politics was solid. That is, until he started governing.
McMaster’s short tenure as Governor has been rocky from the start. During his first legislative session as governor, South Carolina enacted the biggest tax increase in the modern history of the state, massively increased spending on a notoriously corrupt state retirement pension plan without any meaningful reform, and witnessed an utter debacle at one of the state’s largest power companies.
All of this has attracted a bevy of Republican challengers, ranging from the Lt. Governor to the former director of the state’s environmental agency, and there are rumors more will run.
President Trump’s early public endorsement of Governor McMaster is certainly sucking all of the oxygen out of the political room, but the question is whether it translates into anything beyond a photo-op for Henry McMaster. As I hear clearly from voters across the state who reach out to me on the radio and online, many have already calculated that President Trump would support McMaster and just don’t seem to care.
As with Luther Strange in Alabama, many voters who voted for Trump, and may have even attended his rally with McMaster, will not vote for the Governor. Like Luther Strange, McMaster is an insider who has sought the endorsement of the outsider who became President. Time will tell if it works in South Carolina where it failed in Alabama.