So, just about everybody in South Carolina is suing the president — except Gov. Henry McMaster.
But don’t be too hard on him.
Last week, nine environmental groups, 16 cities and a partridge in a pear tree filed lawsuits to stop the Trump administration from issuing leases for oil and natural gas exploration off the state’s coast.
The legal argument these groups make is that the seismic blast testing used in the search for oil and gas violates federal laws protecting sea mammals.
Note that the government places limits on sport and commercial fishing, but would allow corporations to kill whales, dolphins and fish indiscriminately. A double standard, to be sure.
Of course, the cities are concerned about offshore drilling also killing the state’s environment ... and its multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
McMaster knows precisely where his constituents stand. See: results, 1st Congressional District race. But he says a state lawsuit is a last resort to save our last resorts, and he will instead keep lobbying the White House for an exemption.
The cynical view here would be that the governor is loath to take on Trump, who’s consistently campaigned for him. It’s a fair point.
But actually, McMaster has made the right political call — exactly because he knows the president so well.
South Carolina is fighting offshore drilling on multiple fronts. Aside from the lawsuits, congressman-elect Joe Cunningham — who made ‘don’t drill, baby’ his signature issue during the campaign — is working with the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to reinstate the ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic.
Even if that legislation gets through the House, there’s no certainty it would get a hearing in the Senate. But it’s worth a try.
Meanwhile, environmental groups have asked McMaster to join their lawsuit. They say it would make a strong statement, and it would. He hasn’t ruled it out, but he’s politely declining for now.
The governor says he’s still angling for an exemption like Florida has already secured (and which we would probably already have if there were a Trump casino in Myrtle Beach). “They are aware that we in South Carolina are opposed to the testing and drilling off of our shore,” he said. “They are well aware and we will keep making that case.”
That would be the easiest route to protect South Carolina’s coast. But for more than a year, the White House has politely ignored the governor’s repeated requests for that exemption.
So why continue to ask?
Because McMaster knows this for sure: If he joins a lawsuit, the White House is apt to stop returning his calls altogether.
He no doubt realizes this president takes everything personally, and would consider it a breach of their friendship if the governor took him to court.
And McMaster knows it’s always better to have someone on the inside. Which is exactly what we need right now.
Last week, former Gov. Nikki Haley appeared on the “Today” show and talked about how she leveraged the president’s bluster to get things done as United Nations ambassador.
Haley said she used Trump’s threats of military action against North Korea to get sanctions out of other ambassadors. Although she declined to characterize that as playing good cop to the president’s bad cop, the effect was the same.
McMaster is in a position to do almost exactly the same thing.
The governor can tell Trump that he has all these mayors — and voters — raising Cain about offshore drilling and he needs a win, an exemption. The governor could even point out that such a pass for South Carolina would make these lawsuits go away.
How could a man so enamored with his self-perpetuated reputation as a deal-maker resist? Besides, Trump could use a few less lawsuits these days.
But that argument only works if the president continues to consider McMaster an ally, not an adversary.
McMaster has not waffled or wavered — he’s been opposed to drilling for oil off the coast since the idea first surfaced. There’s no doubt where he stands. The only question is how to best get anything done.
The governor knows that diplomacy and back-slapping politics is the quickest route to keeping carpetbaggers out of our water. So, as the lawsuits slog through the courts, and we await an actual act of Congress, it makes much more sense for McMaster to continue being the state’s good cop.
It’s the smart play.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.