I MADE AN important decision during the first real Republican gubernatorial debate Wednesday night.
It was right after Gov. Henry McMaster fumbled that out-of-place question about hate-crime laws by saying we have too many laws on the books and then bragging about some of the laws he helped get put on the books
… and Catherine Templeton declared that she was going to ignore federal law about cell phones in prisons and execute more prisoners (perhaps with that reptile-slaying revolver?) and bragged about picking as her running mate a solicitor who has “also dealt with Islamic terrorists as well as corrupt politicians — and those two might be one and the same”
… and just before Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who had the good fortune of going last on that question, hit it out of the park by declaring that hate-crime laws are “nothing more than a liberal agenda to violate free speech and to trample on people’s liberties.”
It was right in the middle of all that, when John “Businessman. Conservative. Marine.” Warren followed Ms. Templeton by noting that he was the one who was qualified to talk about Islamic terrorists because of all those combat missions he led as a Marine, declared that “government must protect its citizens, ” vowed that he would do precisely that and looked straight into the camera with those steely blue eyes and asked: “Who on this stage do you want to protect you when your life is in danger? You need a Marine.”
And in that instant, clarity: If I’m getting death threats, and I have to hire one of this year’s Republican gubernatorial candidates to be my personal body guard, it’s gonna be John Warren. No doubt about it.
Alas, the other 59 minutes were less clarifying. Particularly if you were grading the debate on points. Or, I would assume, if you were trying to pick a governor.
We would have learned that Mr. Warren is a former Marine … if we didn’t already know that.
And that someone apparently once referred to Ms. Templeton as a buzzsaw … if she hadn’t already told us that.
And that Mr. McMaster has been endorsed by President Trump … if that wasn’t in all of his ads.
And that Mr. Bryant would defund Planned Parenthood … if Mr. McMaster hadn’t already done all a S.C. governor could do to make that happen.
We did learn that Yancey McGill has the ability to transform himself in an instant from the only grownup in the room to the only one who had never visited this planet before — or at least not the Republican sector of it. Bless his heart.
We also learned, if we didn’t already know, that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference among the candidates when it comes to abortion, and maybe not much more than that when it comes to tactics for getting rid of it. They let us know that by way of a question about problems in our still-struggling child-protection system, which none of them bothered to address.
We learned they’re all inside the GOP mainstream on school shootings and tax cuts, and that they all believe we’ve got plenty of money to fix our teacher shortage and our corrections-officer shortage and our road problems and a bunch of other services that are underfunded.
Check that: Mr. McMaster seemed to take a step toward saying we don’t have enough money but we have to make do by spending it better, noting that “we have a six-foot bed and a four-foot blanket,” but then he swerved back to the enough-money, cut-taxes message. Meanwhile, Ms. Templeton vowed to cure our problems by prioritizing the state’s spending, adding: “It’s just math.”
Of course, you don’t expect to find a lot of policy differences in a primary debate, at least not when all of the candidates are determined to get to the right of all the other candidates. What you find are differences of style and experience and knowledge.
And we saw some of that Wednesday, although that last one can be difficult to detect unless you know more about how South Carolina’s government actually works than everybody on the stage.
We learned that all the candidates recognize that the governor needs more power, even if they don’t all quite grasp the limits of that power: Ms. Templeton will cut the state income tax “tomorrow” (only the Legislature can do that, and it takes a lot longer) because she would “take a bigger blade to my buzzsaw.” Mr. Warren will fire the board of Santee Cooper (which governors don’t have the power to do) and “prevent one more dollar being paid by ratepayers” (ditto) because “that’s what a business person would do.” Bless his heart. It’ll be a rude awakening.
We learned that the candidates with experience in elected office think that’s important and the ones without it think it’s bad and that Mr. Bryant (I have experience, but I’m no insider) and Ms. Templeton (I’m an outsider with four years’ training) think they can have it both ways.
Here Mr. McGill actually gave the most instructive answer, explaining that a governor has to be able to win enough votes in the Legislature to get his policies passed — something that’s tougher to do when you have no relationships with those legislators and when, like Mr. Warren and Ms. Templeton, your big applause lines are attacking the state’s most powerful legislator.
Despite that flash of insight, the former Democratic senator and lieutenant governor didn’t give us a single clue to the biggest mystery of this campaign: Why is Yancey McGill running?
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.