Tim Dunkin
June 9, 2010
Dirty politics and why South Carolina needs a good dose of TEApublicanism
By Tim Dunkin

Politics is a dirty game, which is probably why more good people don't get into it. Politicians seem to come in two types. The large majority are those who end up being sucked into the swamp, however idealistic they initially were, and however good their intentions might have been. The constant drumbeat of corruption everything from lobbyists trying to buy their vote to the temptation to respond in kind to political enemies trying to backstab them can make many a good man or woman go bad. The culture of Washington and the culture of the Statehouse take over, and these end up being just another career politician for whom re-election is more important than good government, who begin to view the people as a source of revenue rather than a source of political legitimacy. Of course, many of them never were idealistic or had good intentions to begin with. Many of them intended to get into politics simply to further their own power and wealth.

The other type of politician, much in the minority, is the one who is able to resist the temptation to corruption. These are nevertheless touched by it because of the simple fact that evil can never cease to harass the good. This type is the man or woman who genuinely tries his or her best to give the people good government, to adhere to the constitutional limits of their office, who doesn't view you and me as an ever-leafing money tree. They also, unfortunately, end up being the target of those corrupt and dirty politicians who want to drag them down, who want to keep these knights in shining armor from being a hindrance to the spending, the corruption, the "business as usual" mentality.

We see this taking place in South Carolina today.

If you have been watching the Republican primary race to see who will be the Party's nominee to run for the governorship of that state in November, you have seen this in action. Four people are running in this primary Nikki Haley, Gresham Barrett, Andre Bauer, and Henry McMaster. Up until about two weeks ago, this race was pretty vanilla four individuals, all conservative to one degree or another, fighting it out to see who will become the GOP nominee to run for the highest office in one of the most conservative states in the union. Three of these Bauer, McMaster, and Barrett were backed by various elements of South Carolina's GOP establishment, as well as by national-level politicians. McMaster (the state's Attorney General), for instance, has won national level endorsements from Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, clearly marking him out as the national Party insiders' choice. Bauer (currently the Lieutenant Governor) is reputedly the choice of the state GOP's establishment. For most of the spring, the race was between Bauer and McMaster as being the two who would advance to the inevitable runoff election. In December, Insider Advantage had the two tied at 22% each, and a March 3 poll from Rasmussen had McMaster leading Bauer 22%-17%.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the voting booth. Early in May, Sarah Palin stepped into the fray and endorsed Nikki Haley, a very conservative state representative from Lexington. This followed on the heels of some Tea Party endorsements that also went to Haley, as well as the thumbs-up from Jenny Sanford, the former first lady, currently estranged from her two-timing husband, Mark Sanford. These endorsements had an effect, as Nikki Haley was drawn out of obscurity and thrust into the spotlight as a new conservative rising star. A Rasmussen poll on May 17 put Haley in the lead with 30% of the vote (a healthy margin for a four-way race). This was followed by a Public Policy Polling report on May 23 that put Haley up with 39%, more than doubling her nearest opponent, McMaster, who garnered the support of 18% of respondents.

This is when the race started to get ugly.

Entrenched political interests don't like to let go of power. They certainly don't like to see "upstarts" threaten to overturn the apple cart. One thing that career politicians really hate is an ideologue who threatens to reform the system and who means what he or she says. Nikki Haley is one such person. Nikki Haley had already made waves by butting heads with several prominent South Carolinian legislators. She actually wants to cut spending, while her (Republican) opponents in the state legislature do not, since they figure that as long as it's their spending, there's no need to actually follow through with all that "fiscal responsibility" nonsense. Haley had also drawn a lot of ire from the GOP establishment with her efforts last year to push through a bill that would have required the South Carolina legislature to record many more of their votes as on-the-record roll call votes, thus introducing a lot more transparency into the legislative process. She was able to get it through the South Carolina House, but it died in the state Senate, where it was permanently stalled out in a committee run by state Senator Jake Knotts. Knotts, part of the GOP insider good-ol'-boys network, was not real interested in having his and his cronies' names on a lot of the spending bills that routinely pass the legislature with voice votes (in which no individual legislator is actually on record for how they voted).

Haley was also an ally of Governor Mark Sanford, who while not being so great in the marital fidelity area, was and is a strong fiscal conservative who likewise means what he says. Sanford, it we will recall, was caught last year while returning from Argentina, where he kept a mistress. This turn of events proved to be just what his political enemies, such as Jake Knotts, as well as political opportunists, like Andre Bauer, needed to try to take him down once and for all. Why did they want to? Because Sanford, like Nikki Haley, stood for fiscal responsibility, and opposed many of the fiscally irresponsible schemes put forward by legislative Republicans in South Carolina. Just to give one example, Sanford crossed swords with his own Party when he rejected federal stimulus funds, a trough that state legislators wanted to wiggle their piggies in. Republicans in the state House and Senate hate Sanford because he is a thorn in their side, fiscally speaking. So while they were technically in the right to try and impeach him (though the House eventually settled for censuring him), their motives and reasons for doing so were not exactly pure as the driven snow. Needless to say, because of her past legislative associations with Sanford, Nikki Haley had made quite a lot of enemies in the South Carolina GOP establishment already.

So, after the polls pretty firmly established that Haley was the new frontrunner, the attacks began. First, Will Folks, a South Carolina political blogger who had worked with previous Haley campaigns, claimed to have had an affair with her. As evidence, he released an edited record of some text and phone messages between himself and Haley generated while he was working for her as a political consultant all of which was a bit underwhelming, from an evidential standpoint. Folks, for his part, appeared to be trying to play coy, shopping the story around to various media outlets, all the while claiming that the only reason he revealed the affair was because someone else was shopping the story around, and he wanted to beat them to the punch. Nobody is quite sure who Folks is working for on this, but the general consensus seems to be that he didn't actually come out with these accusations on account of his "sacred honor."

Then, in a classic pile on, Larry Marchant, a political consultant working for the Bauer campaign, resigned his position with the campaign, and the following day went to the media claiming an affair with Haley as well. Having no actual evidence to back up his allegation, Marchant submitted to a polygraph test of his claims the results of which were inconclusive.

The merry escapade continued when State Senator Jake Knotts (who, incidentally, bears a striking resemblance to Boss Hogg) decided to chime in with his timely observation that Nikki Haley is a "******* raghead," using the fact that her "daddy walks around in a turban" as evidence of her unfitness for office. Haley, born Nimrata Randhawa, was born in South Carolina, though her parents are from India. Her family is Sikh, though she herself was married to her husband in a Methodist ceremony, and she is reportedly active in her Methodist church back home in Lexington. Knotts later gave one of those "I'm not really apologizin' though I'm sayin' I am" type apologies for his remarks.

I will emphasize again that neither Folks' nor Marchant's allegations have been substantiated in any way. Haley, of course, strenuously denies them. Bauer denies that he is involved with the accusations, though it doesn't appear as if South Carolina voters really believe him. I will say this I do not know whether Nikki Haley committed adultery against her husband with these two other men. But given all the evidence (or lack thereof, I should say) to date, my money would be on her not having done so. Somebody, however, seems to have thought that these accusations were going to resonate with South Carolina's religious conservative-heavy electorate. However, they don't appear to be, since the latest PPP poll still gives Haley a 20-point lead, essentially unchanged from before. Likewise, the poll shows that only 13% of voters actually believe the allegations of marital infidelity against her.

So, the attempt to kneecap her appears to be failing. Since I am writing this while voting is still taking place on the day of the primary, I will have to wait to see what actually happens.

This whole sordid episode clarifies the need to TEApublicanize the South Carolina GOP. TEApublicanism, if you will recall, is the approach to electoral politics that emphasizes the need for conservatives to work within the Republican Party (hence, rejecting third partyism) to recapture it for the advancement of conservative principles, all the while rocking boats that the "business as usual" types don't want rocked.

In the past, I have focused on the need for conservatives to wrestle power within the Party (hence, enabling them to better determine the direction of the Party) from moderates, RINOs, and other leftists. In the case of the South Carolina Republican Party, this isn't really what is at issue (Lindsay Graham notwithstanding). I'm sure that all of these establishment insider good-ol'-boy types from Andre Bauer to Jake Knotts would all claim to be good, solid conservatives. On many issues not pertaining to their pet spending measures, they may even have good conservative voting records. They may well be solid social and defense conservatives who would vote the right way on abortion or who would support the War on Terror.

But the issue in this case is one of honesty versus corruption. TEApublicanism cannot be just about getting people who say the right things and vote the right way into office. It has to be about giving the people good government, not just government that agrees with them. Many of these major players in South Carolina Republican politics are people who have been in the game for so long that they have become infected by the fever swamp. They often vote the right way, but they are just as prone to taking dirty money, scratching each others' backs, and gaming the system as any Democrat from Illinois or Massachusetts. They are as much a part of the problem as the RINOs and leftists are.

TEApublicanism must make one of its goals to be the clearing out of the swamp, pulling up the underbrush and airing out our political system. Conservatives need to take over the GOP, precinct by precinct, county by county, not just to be able to get our guys into office, but to make sure that our guys are people of integrity and honesty, who really mean what they say. Because politics is such a dirty game, there are too few people like Nikki Haley, Jim DeMint (another standup South Carolinian), and other committed conservative reformers who want to become involved. Too often, they find their lives and their families dragged through the mud. And this is as often because of corrupted political insiders from their own Party as it is because of hostile news media or politicians from the other side of the aisle.

We conservatives have to make the choice that while we will fight with everything we have to win our country back, and that we will keep ourselves from the corruption that our political system so often tempts us to. We must demand that our politicians not only believe the right way and vote the right way, but be men and women of integrity, people who won't sell us down the river for the first lobbyist or back-scratching deal that comes along. We cannot allow dirty politics to continue, just because it's our dirty politics. It's time to drain all the swamps, at every level. In South Carolina, this will happen when South Carolinian conservatives decide to clean house.

It can happen. Make it so.

© Tim Dunkin


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Tim Dunkin

Tim Dunkin is a pharmaceutical chemist by day, and a freelance author by night, writing about a wide range of topics on religion and politics. He is the author of an online book about Islam entitled Ten Myths About Islam. He is a born-again Christian, and a member of a local, New Testament Baptist church in North Carolina. He can be contacted at patriot_tim@yahoo.com. All emails may be monitored by the NSA for quality assurance purposes.


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