VP Pence draws thousands to Duncan’s pro-Trump ‘Faith and Freedom’ BBQ

Mark Sanford told to ‘take a hike’ at pro-Trump BBQ

Republican politician Mark Sanford told to 'take a hike' at pro-Trump BBQ
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Republican politician Mark Sanford told to 'take a hike' at pro-Trump BBQ

Some of South Carolina’s most fervent Republicans made clear Monday night which of their own they wouldn’t mind seeing in the White House after President Donald Trump’s exit — and which Republicans they would rather not see.

Regarding Trump’s No. 2, Vice President Mike Pence?

“I’d welcome it,” said Rex Parkinson, sporting a Trump 2020 hat and T-shirt at U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan’s ninth annual Faith and Freedom Barbecue, where he waited to here Pence speak as the headliner. Parkinson’s wife Karen quickly echoed his sentiments as did the couple’s friends, Tom and Renee Geistler, as they tailgated outside the event.

A less popular pick, at least according to the vocal mass of people there, milled about the crowd.

Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, who is mulling a primary challenge against Trump, was met with a chilly reception from attendees at the barbecue, the first installment of the event Sanford himself had ever attended.

At one point while giving a TV interview, Sanford was jeered by the crowd, who held “Trump 2020 signs.” Some yelled, “Take a hike,” a reference to his Appalachian Trail blunder while he was South Carolina’s governor.

A spokesman for national Republicans sharpened the point: “He’s a failed congressman, failed governor, and he’s more than welcome to fail at this, too,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Joe Jackson.

But not all the attendees in the crowd agreed.

“I do think he should run,” 21-year-old Will Bray, a senior at Anderson University, said of Sanford, adding if Trump is the nominee in 2020, he is unsure how he will vote. Bray backed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the 2016 presidential primary and voted third party in the general election.

“What’s difficult for me is that the Republican Party is moving further right without actually becoming conservative,” Bray said. “I think conservative ideals matter. I think lowering the deficit — actually being conservative economically — that matters.”

Sanford told reporters the crowd’s comments didn’t “discourage him at all,” as he continued to shake hands with voters.

“I’ve been in a lot of political battles and contests,” he said. “Seen a lot worse.”

Pence: ‘I’m here for one reason’

Trailing reports of his own presidential ambitions, in 2024, Pence took the stage as the headliner shortly after 7 p.m. Monday and spoke for more than 30 minutes.

The vice president then vaguely quashed rumors that his S.C. speech was about his own plans for a White House run in 2024.

“I love barbecue and I love conservatives, but I’m here for one reason and one reason only. That’s because South Carolina and America need four more years of President Trump. It’s time for round two, everybody.”

Duncan’s barbecue has become a staple of conservative politics in South Carolina. It serves as both a celebration for S.C. first responders and veterans, while giving key Republican players an opportunity to test out stump speeches, try out one-liners and get S.C. voters’ reactions in the early presidential primary state.

Roughly 3,000 people gathered inside the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center, where the tables were covered in red, white and blue signs that read “Keep America Great” and “Trump 2020” and “Duncan for Congress” bumper stickers.

“People here are normal,” said Republican voter Tom Geistler, who added the barbecue gives voters like himself a chance to talk to like-minded people. “I’m fed up with political correctness. We’ll never debate any issues or solve any problems if we’re going to worry about every single word we say. Give me a break. You got to get to the issues and solve them.”

The GOP’s ambassadors were on message, too.

“Conservatives across South Carolina are energized and excited to re-elect President Trump, Vice President Pence, Congressman Duncan and ensure four more years of ‘America First’ leadership,” S.C. Republican Party chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement.

Pence stops at Upstate plant

Ahead of the barbecue, Pence toured Sargent Metal Fabricators plant in Anderson, where the 500-person crowd donned MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats, according to pool reporter Robert Costa of the Washington Post.

At the plant, Pence talked about trade with Canada and Mexico, touting the economy under Trump, and defended the president’s use of tariffs, saying Trump at the G-7 Summit in France this week “put China on notice,” Costa reported.

The days of China’s intellectual property theft “are over,” Pence said.

Pence told reporters Trump was a “little bit jealous” that he was in South Carolina on Monday.

“Couldn’t get him,” Duncan said of the president, adding, “but we got the vice president.”

Pence later addressed a sold out crowd at the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center, where he headlined along with firebrand conservative U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who sits as the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Jordan and Pence now join a long list of past Faith and Freedom headliners that have included GOP presidential contenders Ben Carson — now Trump’s U.S. housing secretary — U.S. Sens.Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and now-former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The barbecue also is must-attend event for S.C. Republicans, including South Carolina’s governors, past and present.

“All these conservatives — this is great,” said Gov. Henry McMaster, who described the Trump and Pence ticket as “dynamite.”

“We got two great men, Trump and Pence. Best combination in the whole world,” McMaster said. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence are an exceptional combination. They’re like nitro and glycerin.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.