President Donald Trump offered a warm endorsement of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday, returning a favor to a “friend” and “compatriot” from last year’s presidential primary.
Then South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, McMaster became the first statewide elected official in the nation to endorse Trump in the lead up to the state’s pivotal first-in-the-South primary.
Trump invited McMaster, wife Peggy McMaster and family on stage at a Greenville fundraiser Monday night, referring to the governor as “my friend, my compatriot, who worked with me so hard.”
“I’m with this man, and I’m with this family. … They showed me the ropes a little bit,” Trump said, adding, “And I said, ‘He’s a talented guy, and he’s doing really well.’ ”
Offering his endorsement, Trump said McMaster is “going to be for many years a great governor. He does some special job, and he does it with his heart.”
McMaster has Trump to thanks for becoming governor, a post he took over when Trump appointed then-S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to become United Nations ambassador.
The president also thanked South Carolina’s first lady “for putting up with all of this.”
McMaster took the mic as Trump prepared to leave the stage.
“This is a magnificent man,” McMaster said. “He’s changing the way people in the country think.”
Trump’s endorsement came at the end of a roughly half-hour long speech where the president took swings at the media and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, pitched his tax plan and ribbed U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a recent golf partner and former foe on the presidential campaign trail. Trump said he supports the senator’s healthcare plan that would send health care dollars as block grants back to states.
Trump also said McMaster is doing a great job and doing fine in the polls.
“Let me tell you what, the polls – I saw some polls, and you know I’m a poll person, you know I don’t believe them, but I like to read them anyway – I just want to say his poll numbers are fantastic. He’s doing really well. People respect him and the family.”
The fundraiser comes just days after the Richland Republican’s top rival – attorney Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant – reported raising more money than McMaster from July through September.
Trump’s visit should give McMaster a big boost to close out the year’s fundraising efforts.
The fundraising reception – open to donors who gave at least $250 – could house up to 1,200 people, according to media reports, meaning McMaster could raise at least $250,000 if 1,000 people bought tickets.
Trump, who exited the stage to chants of “USA! USA! USA!”, could return to the Palmetto State to help McMaster later in the campaign. On this trip, the president did not appear at any public events where he is known to captivate a national – and world – audience with his unpredictability.
A rally with Trump closer to the primary could energize his supporters for McMaster, said Chad Connelly, a former S.C. GOP chairman, after the event.
“That’s going to be a big deal. They want to know who the president’s for. There’s no question about it,” Connelly said, adding the president’s opinion “carries a lot of weight” with GOP voters.
Whether Trump supporters flock to McMaster depends on what happens between now and June. The GOP primary is a long way away, said Scott Buchanan, a political scientist at The Citadel.
“Most voters, Trump supporters or not, I don’t think they’re paying a lot of attention right now.”