CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention ended late Thursday and South Carolina’s delegation is now on its way home, some flying and some driving 10 hours back to the Lowcountry and elsewhere in the Palmetto State.
Donald Trump did his best to unify the party, and the collective message is shifting toward November and the coming showdown with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Here are five South Carolina takeaways from the past five days:
1. South Carolinians continue to play insider roles in Trump machine. It’s well-established that Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster and Columbia-based public affairs executive Ed McMullen helped Trump win South Carolina’s Feb. 20 GOP presidential primary. What was made clear at the convention is that the two men continue to play crucial roles in day-to-day affairs of the Trump campaign.
McMaster was rewarded for his loyalty as the first highest-elected official to endorse Trump with the role of delivering a nominating speech on the convention stage. The Post and Courier also learned McMaster was integral in helping other elected officials come out for Trump, as well. McMaster acknowledged he reached out to U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a friend since the 1980s, urging him to come out as the first U.S. senator to take that step. Sessions soon did.
McMullen, meanwhile, has gone from being South Carolina co-chairman of the Trump primary campaign to an inside adviser for the national operation.
2. S.C. top lawmakers still lukewarm on Trump. One of the biggest stories out of this election cycle has been elected officials’ slow evolution to embrace the party’s controversial nominee. South Carolina is no exception.
Gov. Nikki Haley was in Cleveland on Wednesday and Thursday, but apart from an appearance at one delegation breakfast and one quick stop to the convention floor she stayed away from the festivities. Her absence from the speakers’ lineup was strongly noted, as was her refusal to offer an unequivocal endorsement of Trump.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., passed through Cleveland even more quickly. He left immediately following his brief remarks at the delegation breakfast and after some business with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., obliged The Post and Courier with a statement after Trump’s Thursday night acceptance speech that spoke to his inner turmoil. His review of Trump’s message was blunt: “Trump spoke in forceful, short, declarative sentences” that contrasted with the Democrats’ “more cerebral” rhetoric.
3. S.C. delegates are coming around or resolved in their support. Unlike Haley and members of Congress who did not project open enthusiasm for the party nominee, members of the S.C. convention delegation reported experiencing an increased level of excitement. Part of it was U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump during his prime-time speech, which some said triggered a unity that the Texas Republican refused to embrace. Part of it was the selection of proven conservative Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the VP running mate.
Meanwhile, some state delegates who supported Trump from the beginning felt just as good — if not better — at the conclusion of his acceptance speech.
“He was Ronald Reagan on steroids,” said Cyndi Mosteller of Charleston. “He has the greatest will to win for the American people.”
4. S.C. helped shape the 2016 RNC experience. Glenn McCall, South Carolina’s RNC national committeeman, served as the vice-chairman on the convention committee on arrangements. He made sure the delegation had hotel accommodations just a stone’s throw from the Quicken Loans Arena while other states were staying more than an hour outside the city. McCall also ensured South Carolina had a good seating position on the convention floor, just a bit to the right of center stage.
5. South Carolina is still the “first in the south.” The state’s position as the nation’s third presidential selection state after Iowa and New Hampshire is the envy of others who have been grumbling about the need for balance. Efforts were launched to move South Carolina out of its spot for 2020 but S.C. party Chairman Matt Moore and South Carolina’s National Committeewoman Cindy Costa were able to shield the Palmetto State — for now.
As far as possible future GOP presidential candidates were concerned, courting the South Carolina delegation in Cleveland was still one of the “musts.” U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker both made the rounds. Republicans are “looking to make friends in South Carolina,” Moore said.
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.