In 2011, there will be two significant events that determine if the South Carolina Republican Party is seaworthy or if it’s just a dinghy on a big sea.
Both events occur in May: the selection of a new SCGOP Chair and the nation’s first Republican presidential debate for the 2012 election. I wrote last month that the state party is “on the brink” as “at least five factors will influence the party’s agenda and offer opportunities to either prosper or commit suicide” between now and May. But the party’s work goes well beyond staging debates and fundraisers.
The single most important piece of SCGOP business is the selection of the right chairperson. For all her dedication, outgoing chair Karen Floyd was mostly a (necessary) interim between the seven years of Katon Dawson and the future. The tenures of those two individuals receive mixed reviews, some very intense (both pro and con), but the consensus is that Dawson left Floyd with an empty bank account and damaged egos state-wide.
The new chairperson will face an incestuous and cannibalistic party with racial, gender, age and fiscal problems. (S)he will have to have ice in the veins, steel in the spine and honey on the lips. The new chair will need to absorb and use new technologies while embracing rural cultures.
SHADES OF THE GOP
With nearly a third of the population being “non-white,” attracting people of color to the traditionally Caucasian Republican ranks will remain a major challenge. Katon Dawson did a fairly respectable job of engaging African-Americans on behalf of the party. Tim Scott’s victory to become the state’s (and the south’s) first post-reconstruction member of Congress since Reconstruction might well be fruit of Dawson’s efforts. And, of course, the election of Nikki Haley as governor will also appeal to those historically not associated with the GOP. The new chair will have to accelerate that process, not leave it to osmosis or evolution.
“THE FEAR OF WOMEN IS THE BEGINNING OF KNOWLEDGE.” Gelett Burgess
Women in South Carolina, as in the rest of the world, run things and their endorsement of the Republican Party is essential. The snarling Hounds of Hell whimper in the presence of an angry Carolina woman and solid objects have been known to burst into flame under their displeased gaze. To get the female endorsement, the party will need to emphasize the contrast between it and Democrats on issues generally considered most important to women; education and the economy.
Herein a huge challenge as these are two of the most damaging weaknesses with which the state is dealing. South Carolina’s standing in both have declined steadily over the years while Republicans dominated state government. I suspect the female population is tired of excuses and finger-pointing and just want things fixed. The Party Chair won’t be able to provide the fix, but (s)he will need to listen and channel that rage to GOP office holders while soliciting those women for support and funds.
Have any of you men had to apologize to a mother, girlfriend or wife for blowing money on some stupid gadget, poker game or night out with the boys while – AT THE SAME TIME – explaining why you need more money to do the same thing?
It’s gonna be kinda like that.
CODGERS AND WHIPPERSNAPPERS
Politics in South Carolina runs on old money. It also runs at the behest of old guard political players who have paid their dues to get their way. This aristocracy is a network of long-time friends and the children of friends who have or, in their minds, should have certain party privileges and/or positions in government. If this group of patricians aren’t accommodated, the party will crumble.
Meanwhile, there is a rapidly growing group of young “politicos” that are gaining prominence in South Carolina politics. They do the grunt work on campaigns, put together websites and social media connectivity, serve on campaign and, ultimately, office-holder staffs, work for PACs and are moving into positions in the party. They are the future of the party. To many observers, these younger folks are extremely talented in the mechanics of political campaigns, but are not yet mature enough in understanding the life-lessons of history and human nature. There is a perceived lack of respect for the older group who they seem to consider more as compatriots than mentors. “They have the nerve to call me by my first name!” complained one official about operatives half his age.
The rift between age groups in the GOP (and politics as a whole in South Carolina) isn’t discussed much outside individual circles. The younger group feels it’s their time while the older believes it to be their party. There is resentment, primarily by elders. Somehow, the next SCGOP chairperson has to straddle the chronological divide and meld two generations and two cultures into a cohesive and trusting college of like-thinkers who can work together.
Everyone to whom I’ve spoken in the party agrees that Katon Dawson left the group flat broke. Although there are a number of reasons cited for the poor fiscal standing that Dawson bequeathed to his successor, Karen Floyd, the one most discussed is his campaign to become the chair of the Republican National Committee, a race he lost to Michael Steele in a fairly close contest. Many believe that Dawson spread SCGOP money to other state parties to help get him elected as national chair. Whatever the reason, South Carolina party funds were depleted by the time Floyd took office and she was unable to replenish them in her short tenure.
The next chair is going to have to restock the treasury and do it in an environment that includes a recession and recent big wins in-state, leaving sources tapped out and/or jaded. Further, quite a few potential donors are going to want to wait to see if any real progress is possible with the newly selected slate of candidates. Funding fatigue is becoming all the more real in an era in which government spending is being more closely scrutinized as are those in charge of that spending. That caution is being felt by companies, brokerages, charities and political parties. It’s going to take much more than smooth talking to open up checkbooks.
The party is going to have to prove itself, and THAT is why party members and the electorate should pay very close attention to who is chosen to head the SCGOP and how that person conducts business.
IT’S ABOUT VOTERS
The new Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress, John Boehner, has repeatedly said that the 2010 election was the American voter; “Across the country right now, we are witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the people.”
The new chair of the SCGOP won’t be able to control elected members or effectively promise that they will keep their word. But (s)he will have the kind of influence to help thin the herd of RINOs and take action against those that embarrass the party or perform in a manner that is ethically reprehensible (Jake Knotts).
The South Carolina Republican Party is encrusted with barnacles and coated with a film of toxic slime. It’s gonna take a hammer, chisel and power washer to clean it up.