CLEVELAND — K.C. Lombard of Charleston says he still isn’t ready to put a Donald Trump bumper sticker on his car.
But he conceded that when he leaves Cleveland on Friday, he’ll be a little bit closer to taking that step.
This was a theme echoed by many members of the South Carolina delegation on the final day of the Republican National Convention. While participants by and large were ready to back the controversial GOP presidential candidate before traveling to Cleveland, for the majority Trump was not their first choice out of the original 17-person field.
“The noses are all held now. We’re all on board,” said delegate and former S.C. GOP chairman Katon Dawson. “Four Supreme Court justices keep us glued together. That’s what keeps us glued together.”
Dawson was alluding to the president’s power to nominate a Supreme Court justice to a lifetime appointment — and what the court may look like in the coming years.
Others said there were turning points throughout the week that increased the importance of helping establish party unity. Several delegates said they appreciated when Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster explicitly urged the group to put personal disappointments aside in the name of supporting the GOP nominee.
During Wednesday’s delegation breakfast meeting, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton but did not mention Trump’s name once. McMaster, the highest elected official to first endorse Trump for president, was compelled to follow Haley’s remarks with an admonishment of those still reluctant to come on board.
“We have to say we’re behind him like we do with our other nominees,” McMaster said.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment leading up to Trump’s Thursday night acceptance speech was U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s decision Wednesday not to use his prime-time speaking slot to endorse his former campaign rival. The convention floor nearly erupted in a riot as Cruz was booed off the stage.
Many South Carolinians immediately lashed out against what they perceived as a show of poor sportsmanship and self-absorption. For some it illuminated the need to unite behind Trump no matter what.
“I think Ted Cruz not endorsing Trump, and (Ohio Gov. and former GOP presidential candidate John) Kasich not coming over here and endorsing Trump might be one of the biggest unifiers of the whole convention, really,” said Mark Hartley, a delegate and former chairman of the Charleston County GOP.
DeLinda Ridings of Columbia, who was the political director for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in South Carolina, was wearing a Trump T-shirt on Thursday afternoon because, she said, “I’m a team player.”
Ridings said that after Cruz’s Trump snub, the Lexington County GOP chairman reported receiving “10-plus” calls from previously unidentified local Republicans asking how to get involved.
“But I’m not going to talk about him and give him credit where there’s no credit needed,” Ridings said of Cruz. “We need to be talking about what (vice presidential nominee) Mike Pence did. Mike Pence formed unity. Mike Pence showed there is stability in this party.”
Jasper County delegate Karen Wyld, a Cruz supporter during the primary, said she was “disappointed” in her candidate, adding that it might factor into whether she supports him in his future bids for higher office. Like Ridings, she said a turning point for her this week was seeing Pence, the governor from Indiana, become Trump’s running mate.
“They say the VP pick really doesn’t make a difference, but I always look at the VP pick,” Wyld said. “I’m OK with Trump, but I really like Pence.”
There are still dissidents in the state delegation. Two guests of delegates from Spartanburg have been roaming Quicken Loans Arena with stickers on their credentials that feature illustrations of Trump alongside the word “loser.” Greenville delegate Stephen Brown circulated, unsuccessfully, a petition to join with other states in forcing a roll call vote on the RNC rules package.
He called his colleagues’ rejection of Cruz on Wednesday night “disappointing.” Delegate Paige “Duffy” Lewis of Charleston added that she didn’t want to be “coerced” into party unity.
But on the whole, the South Carolina delegation was not considered one of the troublemaker states at the convention. State-tied supporters of the “Dump Trump” movement, if there were any, never made national news like other leaders of the effort.
Some delegates grumbled amongst themselves but maintained an outward appearance of keeping it together. Delegates were proud of their “First in the South” primary status, their center-stage seating on the arena floor and hotel assignment within walking distance from the convention center.
Hartley, who has attended the last seven GOP conventions as either a delegate or alternate, said some of the rancor this cycle had to do with new blood in the party.
“There are people in the party now who don’t understand the process,” he said. “They don’t realize the end game, the end result, should outweigh everything,” meaning Clinton’s defeat.
Still, Hartley said he wanted to convey a tone of optimism. “I truly believe (people) will come around and helpfully they’ll help us,” he said.
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.