CLEVELAND — On Tuesday night, the political world learned the name Henry McMaster.
The South Carolina lieutenant governor was personally selected by Donald Trump to address the Republican National Convention, kicking off Trump’s formal nomination as the GOP pick for president.
“They tell me I was the first elected official to endorse Donald Trump,” said McMaster, looking out at the crowd of packed delegates from the stage inside Quicken Loans Arena. “It was lonely for a while. But no more.”
McMaster recalled the famous quote from the Japanese admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, who said after the attack on Pearl Harbor “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve.”
With Trump, said McMaster, “after eight years of incompetence, arrogance and disrespect for the rule of law, the American people have had enough. The sleeping giant of the American spirit has awakened, and is sounding the tocsin to make America great again.
“He may be the only man perfectly equipped the win the battle ahead,” he said.
McMaster also spoke of Trump’s kindness and generosity towards strangers and “tenderness” towards his wife, Melania.
McMaster’s speech drew early positive reviews from fellow members of the S.C. delegation, who stood at their floor seats during his remarks.
“The Henry McMaster that we know and love shined through tonight. He was forceful and eloquent,” said S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons said with a laugh that McMaster always had to end with a joke, and the joke landed well. McMaster closed his speech with a riff on the famous song by Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here. What it is, is precisely clear.”
Ed McMullen, a Columbia-based political affairs consultant who has taken on an insider’s role in Trump’s national campaign, told The Post and Courier McMaster was his own speechwriter.
“I swear to God he wrote every piece of it,” McMullen said. “Last night we went over some ideas. I told him what order I would consider doing it all in, and when I woke up this morning he had written the whole thing. We took a little bit out, but everything in there are his words.”
Other than Pastor Mark Burns from Pickens County, who has a speaking slot in prime time Thursday night and delivered a benediction Monday afternoon, McMaster is scheduled to be the only South Carolina figure with a prominent role in RNC proceedings.
He follows in the distant footsteps of Gov. Nikki Haley, who in 2012 spoke about the boom of American-made manufacturing happening in South Carolina and emphasized the necessity of electing a president who would spread job growth across the country.
That same year, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., then a member of the U.S. House, delivered autobiographical remarks on his upbringing in a single-parent, low-income household in North Charleston. He cast aspersions on President Barack Obama’s broken promises of “hope” and “change.”
A bigger get for McMaster, perhaps, might have been one of these slots. He would have had the opportunity to speak on a wider platform on any of the policy issues that matter to him. It would have been a chance for McMaster to add a perspective to the Republican Party platform, especially as he mulls a run for the governorship in 2018. McMaster was one of three speakers to nominate Trump, following U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and U.S. Rep. Chris Collins of New York.
Still, McMaster was fulfilling a historic role on Tuesday night, one that validated the extent he went out on a political ledge in endorsing Trump so early in the election season, weeks before the state’s GOP primary.
Moore, who later got to read out South Carolina’s nomination of Trump over the arena microphones, said McMaster’s speech represented a “proud moment for the state.”
“I am not aware of any time in history when a South Carolinian has been involved in nominating our nominee,” he said.
Paige “Duffy” Lewis, a delegate from Charleston, didn’t hide her disappointment that Trump was receiving the nomination.
“If we had a unifying candidate, we would be naturally unified. We wouldn’t have to coerce it,” Lewis said of the efforts among some delegates to put on a good face.
But Lewis said she understood how big a moment it was for McMaster. “I’m happy for him. You can tell it’s a joy.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., arrived on the convention floor for his first night in Cleveland but after McMaster had concluded remarks. While he couldn’t comment on the content, he doubted it would be remembered.
“All political memories are relatively short,” said Sanford. “Any one speech has a relatively short half-life in the world of politics.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.