As S.C. Republicans gather Saturday to elect delegates to July’s Republican National Convention, the question is: Will they will back presumptive nominee Donald Trump with enthusiasm, reluctance or sit out the November election?
Until Wednesday, Trump’s S.C. opponents were hoping to elect delegates who could swing the nomination away from the New York billionaire if he failed to secure a win on the convention’s first ballot.
But Trump’s path to the GOP nomination cleared at midweek, after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich withdrew from the race.
Early S.C. supporters say the reaction to Trump clinching the GOP nomination has been enthusiastic.
“I’ve gotten a lot of people asking if there’s still room on the Trump train,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, the Berkeley Republican who helped run Trump’s S.C. campaign.
Other reaction has been mixed.
After Trump’s inevitability became undeniable, some S.C. GOP leaders threw their halfhearted support behind Trump.
U.S. Reps. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, who backed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Jeff Duncan of Laurens, who endorsed Cruz, pledged to back the party’s nominee. But they did so without naming Trump.
Gov. Nikki Haley – who backed Rubio and then Cruz, and who has been critical of Trump publicly – said she also will back the GOP nominee. Haley, too, did not name Trump.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination, named Trump Friday.
But Graham did so to say he could not support Trump, saying the bombastic billionaire was not “a reliable Republican conservative” and has not “displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as commander in chief.”
Despite that rancor, Walter Whetsell, a Lexington-based GOP consultant, said it is just a matter of time before most Republicans turn their attention to getting Trump elected.
“It’s going to take a little time,” Whetsell said. “But I do believe that, shortly, Hillary Clinton will, in fact, be the great unifier of the Republican Party.
“For whatever problems you have with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is the alternative,” Whetsell said, adding that most Republicans will see their choice as clear.
Trump’s early S.C. supporters say most Palmetto State Republicans already are coming around to The Donald.
Asked whether he has received conciliatory calls from fellow Republicans who did not think Trump could win, S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed the New Yorker before the February S.C. primary, joked he had. “Everybody wanted to know how I was such a genius.”
Trump’s success in overcoming attacks is evidence of his ability to beat the eventual Democratic nominee, supporters say.
“That’s one of the interesting things about Mr. Trump’s victory ... it has been against all odds,” McMaster said. “I’ve never seen such an effort by so many different people and organizations against him.
“There have been some notable party leaders and notable Republicans who have expended great energy in trying to diminish his chances.”
But, McMaster added, Trump “has triumphed magnificently against everything there was – except the atomic bomb – and now he’s going to the convention with the nomination in hand. It’s quite a story.”
(Trump) has triumphed magnificently against everything there was — except the atomic bomb.
– S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster
State Rep. Merrill said, “Trump supporters – now, after weeks and weeks of hearing how nefarious things were going to take place – are breathing easier.”
Trump supporters ... are breathing easier.
– State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley
Until this week, Cruz and Kasich were working to elect their own supporters to spots at the Cleveland national convention as delegates.
If Trump failed to get the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination on the convention’s first vote, insurgent supporters of Cruz, in theory, then could swing the nomination to the U.S. senator on the second vote.
With that possibility moot now, Merrill said the portrayal of animosity between Trump and Cruz supporters has been “overdone just a bit.”
“It’s always, always contentious. There are always feelings hurt and sore spots” in presidential primaries, he said. “But the party rallies around in the end.”
Referring to the 2000 battle between U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the GOP nomination, Merrill said, “People have short memories.
“They tend to forget that we have a history of gloves-off fisticuffs.”
SC GOP Convention
What: S.C. Republicans will elect 26 delegates Saturday to July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The delegates will join 21 delegates already elected from the state’s seven congressional districts and three other delegates: the state party chairman and two Republican National Committee members. At the national convention, all 50 S.C. delegates must vote on the first ballot for Trump. Trump won the state’s GOP presidential primary taking 33 percent of the vote, beating five opponents.
Where and when: The Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 10 a.m.
Speaker: Gov. Nikki Haley of Lexington
Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster of Richland
Cotton addresses SC Republicans
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said “it’s a great day...to be a Republican” but made no mention of his party’s big news this week – that Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee.
Cotton was the keynote speaker at the S.C. Republican Party’s annual Silver Elephant dinner.
The senator said the media have talked a lot about the possibility of a competitive primary.
“But politics in our society is about so much more than a campaign and one election cycle,” he said, adding that it’s about governing.
Cotton’s comments focused on criticizing Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, warning of the threats the nation faces in foreign policy. An attorney, Cotton enlisted in the U.S. Army infantry in the mid-2000s and trained at Fort Jackson in Columbia.
Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy spoke briefly before Cotton.