Dressed in tuxedos and glittering gowns, about 850 S.C. Republicans gathered at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in a showing of solidarity following a bruising primary season that highlighted fractures within the party.
“If we were going in the direction we were going before as a party, not as strong as it is now, I don’t know where we would be,” S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster told party donors Friday at the S.C. Republican Party’s 51st Annual Silver Elephant fundraising gala. “I want to thank and recognize anyone who ran in a primary ... especially John Warren.”
The Greenville businessman, who forced McMaster into a June 26 runoff for the GOP nomination, tweeted his support of McMaster just hours before the gala.
“While Gov. McMaster and I had a spirited primary campaign that highlighted differences, we cannot elect a pro-choice liberal Democrat as governor,” Warren said in a statement. “As I said during the primary campaign, I have always supported Republican candidates and 2018 will be no different.”
McMaster faces Columbia Democrat and state Rep. James Smith in November’s election. The Richland Republican clinched the GOP nomination last month, but only after being dragged into a hard-fought runoff following a five-way primary that signaled a rift between the GOP’s establishment wing, led by McMaster, and most Republican primary voters, who said they wanted change.
GOP primary challengers Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson and Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton, who endorsed Warren, did not attend Friday. Reached by phone, they said they are unified behind their party’s nominee.
Keynote speaker, North Carolina U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, interrupted McMaster’s remarks with a phone call from President Donald Trump.
“I love South Carolina,” Trump said via speaker phone. “We’re very proud of Mark, and, you know, Henry I assume is giving a speech every bit as good as anything Winston Churchill delivered. It must be very exciting to hear Henry speak, but we love him, and Mark is a special friend.”
Meadows, a Trump ally, was among 11 House Republicans — including fellow Freedom Caucus member U.S. Rep Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens — who introduced articles of impeachment Wednesday against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign was in any way involved.
“You will read the headlines, and if you would think that Donald Trump is in a Russian collusion narrative ... but when you look at the facts, I can tell you the collusion that went on was not with this president and the Russians, it was Hillary Clinton,” Meadows said.
That despite the fact a dozen Russian intelligence officers have been charged in the hacking of Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic Party computers.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders on Thursday said they do not support impeachment.
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, in a statement, said the S.C. GOP “should be ashamed” for bringing Meadows to the Palmetto State, calling his actions against Rosenstein “traitorous.”
Meadows’ visit comes as he tries to sweep up from an intra-party fight that saw one of his caucus members ousted.
Former S.C. governor and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, lost his congressional re-election bid to state Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Summerville, who harped on his public criticism of Trump.
Both attended Friday’s gala.
“South Carolina is going to determine for a large part who we are as a nation coming up on 2020,” Meadows said. “... (A)nd even in this supposedly blue wave that better hit a sea wall in South Carolina — and I believe it will because of you — we’ve got to stay active. ... And, quite frankly, we need to make sure we speak with one voice.”