You have to wonder if the folks at South Carolina Republican Party headquarters even remember Ronald Reagan.
The longtime GOP standard bearer popularized his party’s once-hallowed Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.
For years, the 40th president’s rule was practically written in stone.
Alas, they’re under new management these days. So on Monday, just hours after Congresswoman Nancy Mace filed legislation to federally decriminalize marijuana, her own party attacked her. Without mentioning Mace by name, S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick issued a smoking statement against legalizing “weed.”
“We’ve seen Democrats across the country, even here at home with Joe Cunningham and Mia McLeod, campaign on legalizing weed against the wishes of law enforcement,” McKissick said. “Unequivocally, the South Carolina Republican Party is against any effort to legalize, decriminalize the use of controlled substances, and that includes this bill.”
That last line was just to make sure everyone knew exactly who he was talking about.
And there are so many things wrong with that, it’s hard to know where to begin.
- The party never condemned state Sens. Tom Davis, Stephen Goldfinch, the late Hugh Leatherman or any of the other Republican co-sponsors of the pending “Compassionate Care Act” to legalize medical marijuana. Or state Rep. Lin Bennett, who’s pushed for it in the House.
- It’s hilariously hypocritical for the GOP to get the vapors about going “against the wishes of law enforcement.” Seeing as how, earlier this year, they went against the wishes of law enforcement to expand open carry gun laws.
- And it just looks horrible for the party to criticize Mace two days after the former president called for someone to run against her because she, you know, hurt his feelings.
Neal Thigpen, the dean of South Carolina political scientists (and an old-school Republican), says political parties have very defined purposes: Raise money, organize precincts and support their nominees in the general election. Historically, they remain neutral in primaries.
Certainly, they don’t normally go around attacking their own people.
“The state party ought not to be taking positions,” Thigpen says. “McKissick needs to stay the hell out of this kind of thing.”
He’s right. Of course, political parties are driven by activists, and in these divisive times that most often means the most extremes of the base. Now, sometimes the Democratic base goes after their own (see: Al Franken), but at least their local parties aren’t censuring their own folks over a single vote or bill.
As the Dorchester County Republicans recently did to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham … just because he supported a bill to spend $6 billion on South Carolina infrastructure. And honestly, just because it wasn’t former President Donald Trump’s often-mentioned, never-seen infrastructure bill.
Time was, Republicans and other pro-business types liked that sort of thing (and many still do). But these are strange times.
Truth is, a lot of Republicans have been out to get Mace since her first week in office, when she had the temerity to criticize the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
They haven’t gotten over that, no matter what else she does.
And apparently the party saw this as a way to score points with those folks. But they should be careful.
As Thigpen notes, the 1st Congressional District has long had a libertarian streak. Folks here like independent politicians because ... well, that’s how they often fall on the political spectrum.
Mace is no dummy, and she didn’t introduce legislation that would hurt her reelection chances seven months before a primary. Marijuana decriminalization routinely polls around 68%-70% across South Carolina — and her bill doesn’t mandate legalized weed anyway.
It just allows states to do so, and frees up prison space currently occupied by low-level offenders.
Even Trump released some low-level drug offenders from prison early through his criminal justice reforms. And besides, Mace campaigned on this in 2020.
Still, she isn’t eager to pick a fight with her party; instead Mace simply urged her critics to actually read the bill.
“It’s ironic because CBD was legalized in South Carolina by a Republican legislature, a very Republican state,” Mace told Yahoo Finance. “There’s an effort by Republicans in South Carolina to offer medical cannabis.”
She’s absolutely right. But the bigger problem here is all the friendly fire. Republicans should remember they lost the 1st District three years ago when they nominated a candidate unpalatable to many of their own voters.
The party also needs to remember that many folks in its base have been out to get Graham for years ... and that hasn’t exactly worked out for them. And that’s the pragmatism behind Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: Do no harm to your own troops, because that’s doing the opposition’s work for them.
So, if the party messes around here and hands the district back to the Democrats, a lot of people will wonder exactly what they’re smoking.