South Carolina Primaries Show GOP’s Limit With Trump Criticism - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
South Carolina Primaries Show GOP’s Limit With Trump Criticism
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Donald Trump gives a speech in Wilkes-Barre, PA. (Shutterstock/Evan El-Amin)

Anyone who thought Donald Trump wasn’t still a force to be reckoned with in Republican politics should find themselves humbled by the election results in South Carolina on Tuesday. But the results also showed that Republican voters are more nuanced than they are often given credit for, and are willing to differentiate between criticism of Trump and outright opposition.

South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice, one of 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach the former president after the January 6 riot, was defeated by a wide margin in the Republican primary. Trump’s chosen challenger, state Rep. Russell Fry, took over 50 percent of the vote. The incumbent took less than 25 percent. 

Rice’s vote to impeach was shocking to observers, especially after he voted against certifying some presidential electors on January 6. It was so unexpected that he “was bombarded by frantic calls from colleagues who thought he had hit the wrong button when voting” according to Politico. Rice has maintained since that his vote was the correct one, and said that Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of the most vocal pro-impeachment Republicans, would make a “great” House speaker.

However, a different challenger did not succeed in ousting a South Carolina Republican incumbent who had drawn Trump’s ire. Rep. Nancy Mace defeated a challenge from former state Rep. Katie Arrington, 53 percent to 45 percent. Like Rice, Mace was extremely critical of Trump following the events of January 6, saying that his “entire legacy was wiped out” by the events that day. She also faced some criticism from the right for positions she has taken on religious freedom and gun control. However, unlike Rice, she voted against impeaching Trump and against the January 6 Commission. She touted her support from other Republicans in good standing, such as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. And ultimately, Arrington, who was the nominee for the seat in 2018 before narrowly losing to a Democrat in the general election, was unable to overcome Mace’s incumbency and fundraising despite Trump’s backing.

The two districts are quite different; for instance, Trump defeated Biden by just under 9 percentage points in Mace’s district, but he won Rice’s by nearly 19 percentage points. However, that cannot explain the overwhelming difference in the results between the two. Rice’s vote to impeach Trump was most likely the decisive factor in his loss. As Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s overwhelming victory over a Trump-backed primary challenger showed, merely being opposed by the former president is not enough to get a candidate over the finish line. But actively opposing Trump is a red line, and Rice crossed it.

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