Lin Wood, Aiken, SCGOP Chairman

Attorney Lin Wood, a candidate for S.C. Republican Party chairman, speaks to a crowd in Newberry Hall in downtown Aiken in April. file/Colin Demarest/Staff

Lin Wood has done the impossible: He’s made people feel sorry for Drew McKissick.

And that's a trick.

In his four years as the state’s GOP chairman, McKissick has proven himself the prototypical partisan to lead a political party. His bio on the Republicans’ website says he likes Elvis and “beating Democrats.”

Yeah, like that.

McKissick has been a bombastic, combative cheerleader for his rank and file, no matter how far into the "Twilight Zone" they drift. Unless, of course, they have a rare crisis of conscience following an attempted coup on the federal government.

Sorry, Tom Rice.

He doesn’t have the sense of humor of Katon Dawson or the Southern manners of Henry McMaster, past chairmen who were entertaining or even endearing. But maybe that’s the influence of his hero, Donald Trump, for whom McKissick canceled a presidential primary.

Still, he’s not Trumpy enough for some of the party’s malcontents. So they recruited Wood to challenge McKissick for the chairmanship. Yes, Lin Wood — the Georgia attorney who peddles conspiracy theories about election fraud and pedophiles, or election fraud by pedophiles. It’s never entirely clear.

“They asked me to consider running because they felt like the establishment, headed up by Drew McKissick, was not being responsive to the people,” Wood told The Post and Courier’s Jamie Lovegrove.

“Establishment” Republicans, in this instance, refers to party officials who don’t go around saying lizard people and Satan worshippers are secretly plotting to eat kids. “Responsive” means unwilling to actually overturn an election.

Wood’s style is to promote “Q” inanity and hurl thinly disguised accusations, then go through the “who me?” bit about how he’s just asking questions. He claims Trump’s still in office or suggests former Vice President Mike Pence is a traitor, then says it’s satire or hyperbole ... and he’ll sue if you suggest otherwise.

“We need some chaos in the Republican Party in South Carolina,” Wood told the Aiken GOP last week.

So, basically, he’s the Joker from "The Dark Knight."

Like the Joker, Wood insists he isn’t crazy. And he’s not. He’s a carnival barker — one that even the master of the art avoids. That’s saying something; the former guy hasn’t even thrown Rudy Giuliani under the bus. Yet.

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Wood brought this circus — McKissick’s word — to Ladson last weekend, along with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was pardoned after twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. The uber-“patriot” couldn’t remember the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, but Wood fans will tell you that’s a hidden message. Because that’s how they always explain such boneheadedness.

Wood is right about one thing: the “establishment” GOP loathes him and his supporters. Sure, they were content to keep their mouths shut as Trump drew people to the polls and appointed conservative, if sometimes unqualified, judges. But they suffer no illusions, or delusions, about this alternate reality.

Trouble is, they’ve spent 25 years cultivating voters drawn to conspiracies and imagined grievances, and there’s no way to dial it back now. Without getting canceled.

It doesn’t matter that McKissick has made GOP gains in a state where they already control everything, or that Trump endorsed him. As Mark Sanford explained to Politico, his party has simply devolved into a “cult of personality.”

“It’s one version of Trump versus another, more rabid version of Trump, but it’s all crazy,” Sanford said.

Unfortunately, that’s a self-consuming proposition, sort of like the snake on the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

Last year, McKissick renewed the push for closed primaries in South Carolina — which would require people to join the Republican Party to vote in its primary. Right now, independents and even Democrats can, and often do, vote in the GOP primary a) to keep the party from electing loons, because b) those nominees are usually a general election lock.

Well, this campaign is what a closed primary looks like. Maybe McKissick and the GOP need to rethink that.

In 2018, Democrat Joe Cunningham won a congressional district with an 11-point Republican advantage basically for two reasons: He seemed reasonable, and his opponent did not.

The state and the country need two distinct parties with different ideas about how to achieve similar goals. And one of those goals isn't fighting lizard people.

McKissick will prevail here; his supporters say he has the votes. But it's ridiculous they had to count.

Look, there are nuts in both parties these days. The difference is, the Republicans are letting theirs drive the train.

And if they make Wood their conductor, they’ll eventually drive it right off the rails.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.