A lot of people say South Carolina is the reddest of red states — and they aren’t talking about our necks.
Well, not just that.
Most of the nation considers this state a right-wing citadel, a bastion of conservatism and a tea party haven. As Meat Loaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.
Last week, Winthrop University released a poll of state residents that had some pretty surprising, perhaps significant, findings:
86.5 percent of South Carolinians disapprove of Congress.
Nearly half blame the Republicans for the government shutdown.
And, most tellingly, only 28 percent of South Carolina residents have a positive view of the tea party.
You know what this means? That — gasp — the opinions of people in this state are pretty similar to the views of everyone else in the nation.
So why is it that six of our seven representatives in Congress are Republicans who claim varying levels of allegiance to the tea party?
Maybe because the deck has been stacked through gerrymandered redistricting, which has made it easier for the tea party to hijack the party.
But mainstream Republicans say the silliness has got to stop, that the minority needs to quit wagging the majority, and they are going to take back their party.
And Winthrop’s poll shows they have a good shot at doing it.
Make no mistake, this is Republican country.
Even if folks gripe about the Republican House, or blame the GOP for the shutdown, it doesn’t mean they are ready to jump on the Democratic express.
“This state does have a long history of people not liking the federal government,” says Neal Thigpen, the dean of the state’s political scientists. He says just because folks don’t like this batch of Republicans, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t vote for someone else with an R next to their name.
In fact, that would probably be their solution.
But Winthrop’s poll — with a modest 3.3 percent margin of error — suggests that South Carolina residents aren’t just blindly in step with far-right policies. Nearly half of the folks surveyed don’t have a problem with children born out of wedlock, interracial marriages or smoking pot.
Who could have predicted all that, based on the makeup of our congressional delegation? No one.
Apparently our reputation, like our delegation, doesn’t do us justice.
Now, rank and file Republicans like to complain about Jim Clyburn’s gerrymandered congressional district. It snakes into Charleston, Columbia and up the Corridor of Shame. Some GOP voters say it’s not fair. And they’re right.
It’s not fair to Democrats.
The Republican-controlled Legislature draws these districts, and they love Clyburn’s. It’s a dumping ground for every Democratic-leaning precinct they can find. That keeps the other six districts safely Republican. Can’t blame them — Democrats do the same thing in the states they run.
But having all those districts that are so GOP-heavy means the elections are all but decided in the Republican primary. And that leaves all those incumbents with only one worry:
A challenge from the right.
So they try to fend it off by following tea party policy, no matter how loony it is. And that’s why South Carolina sounds a little crazier than it actually is.
Empire strikes back
Mainstream Republicans are sick of playing along with the tea party’s games, although they won’t go so far as to draw congressional districts that are a little more balanced to water down the influence of the primary.
Actually, the fairest thing to do is to have districts drawn by nonpartisan commissions, as a handful of states do. But that’s not going to happen in South Carolina.
Instead, what you are going to see is more Republicans who sound like Sen. Lindsey Graham — that is, unafraid to take on non-compromising ideas.
“We’ve learned there is no way to make the tea party happy,” one Republican official says, “and most of us are sick of trying. We need to just start ignoring them.”
These folks are going to get help from traditional Republican power bases — chambers of commerce, big businesses — as the GOP attempts to reclaim its party.
That doesn’t mean the state’s political hierarchy, or even its congressional delegation, is likely to mirror South Carolina’s real political makeup in the near future.
But it might sound a little more reasonable.
And this poll ought to help some of those mainstream Republicans find their backbone and reject the politics of no compromise (and no comprehension) before the minority brings them down.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org