Elections

SC Gov. McMaster: ‘Let justice take its course’ on Trump aides facing federal prison

Here is what Trump had to say about Gov. McMaster at Columbia rally

Donald Trump praised Gov. Henry McMaster during a rally at Airport High School in Columbia, SC.
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Donald Trump praised Gov. Henry McMaster during a rally at Airport High School in Columbia, SC.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster offered tempered support Wednesday for President Donald Trump after two former Trump aides pleaded or were found guilty of federal crimes Tuesday.

Asked about Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, implicating the president in a criminal conspiracy to pay hush money to two women who alleged affairs with Trump, McMaster said, “You just have to let justice take its course.”

“You ... go through the system, see that rules are applied fairly and let the results stand for themselves,” said the Republican governor, a Trump ally.

Asked if he still supports the president, McMaster replied: “I’ve supported the president from the beginning.”

McMaster, a former S.C. attorney general and former U.S. attorney, was the first statewide official to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. In return, Trump helped McMaster clinch the Republican nomination for S.C. governor in June, campaigning for McMaster in Lexington County the day before the GOP primary runoff.

As he runs for a four-year term in November against Democrat James Smith, McMaster has continued to lean heavily on his close relationship to the president.

According to Morning Consult, 54 percent of registered S.C. voters polled in June approved of the president, compared to 42 percent who disapproved.

A Winthrop University poll from April found Trump with a 46 percent approval rating among 789 S.C. residents surveyed. Among those who self-identify as Republican, Trump had strong support — an 80 percent approval rate.

“His base does not care,” Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said of the Paul Manafort and Cohen cases. “It doesn’t matter what Trump does. It won’t alienate his base. (But) if this continues to have legal fallout, and James Smith ties the Trump label heavily around McMaster’s neck, then it might convince moderates not to vote for McMaster” in November.

Smith’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Whether Smith uses Tuesday’s news as a cudgel against McMaster, Republicans in the state likely will use it as a rallying cry, Huffmon said.

Likely GOP voters, he said, “will feel backed into a corner and feel Trump ... is under attack for protecting them” from immigrants, terrorists and government intrusion into their lives and businesses, Huffmon said.

College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said McMaster’s close alignment with Trump, while “smart” for the June GOP primary, could present a challenge this fall, “even in a red state.”

“Between the core Democrat support, plus independent voters, plus some suburban women who typically vote Republican but are turned off by Trump’s rhetoric, that could be a coalition” that narrowly hands Smith a victory, Knotts said.

“A Republican will still be favored” in November, he said. “But it (Tuesday) was a bad day for Trump, and it could get worse.”

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83
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