Eight years ago, winning South Carolina meant massive momentum headed into southern Super Tuesday states and, historically, the GOP nomination. Eight years ago, winning South Carolina meant you were the party of Reagan’s mainstream conservative choice.
Today? When John McCain wins South Carolina — as he almost certainly will, for reasons to follow — it will mean almost nothing.
Even the media coverage feels retro. Reporters hunting down anyone with a Confederate Flag and putting them on TV — despite the fact that the flag came off the SC state house dome just months after the 2000 primary. Anchors back in the studios insisting that South Carolina is the Detroit of Dirty Politics, all but begging their reporters to produce a flier headlined “McCain’s Illegitimate Black Daughter Is A Tax-Raising, Pro-Choice Lesbian!”
The best the press has managed as of this writing is a ham-fisted push poll from Mike Huckabee supporters targeting Fred Thompson.
Whether or not our nation’s screwy primary system is fixed in future election years, as many of us pray, the Palmetto State’s days of GOP glory are gone.
Florida is the new South Carolina.
Florida is the first level playing field of the 2008 GOP primaries. Iowa caucuses are like heaven (pardon the pun) to evangelicals; McCain was the unofficial “president of New Hampshire” and Mitt was a Michigan home boy.
South Carolina could have been a bellwether state yet again, but McCain simply has too much history there, and the conservative majority is far too divided. Florida will be the Rorschach Test of Republicans this year. Will it be a left-leaning mod like McCain or Giuliani? Or a GOP traditionalist like Thompson, Romney, or (sort of) Huckabee?
South Carolina won’t tell you. After an unbroken run of predicting winners, South Carolina in 2008 won’t tell us anything at all.
What’s amazing isn’t that South Carolina has lost its place as the must-win Republican primary, but rather that it kept it so long. The “southern firewall” strategy began as a one-time stunt, cooked up by then-Congressman Carroll Campbell and his political partner Lee Atwater to help Ronald Reagan in 1980. Before 1980, South Carolina picked presidential delegates at a convention, controlled at the time by Strom Thurmond. Thurmond supported John “The $11 Million Delegate” Connally, and the primary injected something rarely seen in South Carolina politics back in the day: The will of the people.