S.C. Republicans enter a new era Saturday when they gather to elect their next state party chairman.
At least one effort to drag the party back into the past has been handled in advance.
The Spartanburg County GOP, at its convention last month, adopted a resolution calling for lawmakers to consider flying the Confederate flag at the State House again.
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But state GOP leaders, vetting resolutions for Saturday’s convention, struck the flag resolution. That means, unless a rebel makes trouble from the convention floor, the divisive Confederate banner issue will not come up.
Instead, S.C. Republicans will elect a new chairman, likely to be Drew McKissick, until recently a national party official. While heavily favored, McKissick faces opposition from a challenger who says he wants to weed out from the party so-called RINOs – Republicans in name only.
So it goes for South Carolina’s dominant political party. Despite being in charge of the state for almost two decades, Republicans still suffer from some schisms that have followed them through history.
Spartanburg Republicans, for example, are not the only GOP activists to get caught up in the Confederate flag controversy. Lawmakers voted to remove the flag in 2015 after a racially motivated massacre of nine African-Americans during a Bible study in Charleston. The now-convicted murderer, Dylann Roof, had posted pictures of himself online with the flag.
Three days after that shooting, former Republican National Committee staffer McKissick, a West Columbia grassroots political consultant, tweeted: “Tired of politicians (GOP or Dem) using bodies of dead South Carolinians to attack either guns or symbols of southern heritage.”
The tweet was deleted after it went out, but not before a North Carolina Democratic activist captured it.
Asked Thursday about the tweet and whether its deletion meant he had had a change of heart, McKissick said two years had passed and he was not sure what was going through his head at the time.
Instead, McKissick spoke broadly.
“Political liberals … are, in many cases, all too excited or too ready to exploit certain situations,” he said, adding he was not speaking specifically about “that issue.”
“I’m a conservative. Conservatives aren’t prone to radical change in radical directions in short amounts of time.”
Chairman race a ‘coronation’?
The race to lead the S.C. GOP is for an open seat.
S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore decided earlier this year not to seek re-election. Moore was the party’s first-ever paid chairman, and Saturday’s winner will be paid, too.
McKissick is heavily favored to win, an outcome his challenger, Mark Powell of Anderson County, does not dispute. “The machine has picked Drew McKissick.”
McKissick laughed off that claim Thursday , noting the 20,000 miles he has put on his car campaigning for the post.
A party activist for 30 years, McKissick has been a delegate to seven Republican national conventions. He also said he has been on the national party’s rules committee and held otherpositions.
McKissick says his experience building grassroots campaigns will guide his work for the state party.
He recently left his position as the eastern director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee, where he worked under former S.C. GOP Chairman Chad Connelly.
The job had McKissick on an airplane a lot, encouraging pastors to get their congregations to register to vote and to see how current political issues could affect them.
McKissick said he will bring the same focus to building the S.C. GOP.
“I’m not running for a policy-based position. I’m running for a mechanic position,” McKissick said. “It’s building a political infrastructure that can actually recruit and elect candidates.”
A third candidate for chairman, Rich Bolen – a Lexington attorney and political activist – dropped out of the race, endorsing McKissick. The race is going to be a “coronation,” Bolen said Wednesday.
Opponent wants RINOs out
Before the coronation, however, this year’s race for party chairman will continue recent GOP infighting over who is a Republican.
Powell, a Williamston GOP activist who works in industrial maintenance, said he is running to purge the party of RINO candidates.
Powell said he wants county GOP leaders to vet candidates to ensure they are conservative enough to be on the ticket. Candidates would fill out a questionnaire, and county GOP leaders would review the candidates’ social media accounts and public statements to ensure they match up.