Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (center) is flanked by Gov. Henry McMcMaster (left) and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham as they talk to the media before the South Carolina GOP's annual Silver Elephant fundraising gala in Columbia on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney returned to his home state of South Carolina on Friday night to a standing ovation, championing his efforts to shrink government and telling more than 800 Republicans that President Donald Trump will need six more years to keep it going.

At the South Carolina GOP's 52nd annual Silver Elephant fundraising gala, Mulvaney pointed to low unemployment numbers as evidence that deregulation and Trump's tax cuts — which particularly benefited large corporations — are having a positive impact on the economy.

"It’s really, really hard to drain the swamp, but we’re working hard at it," said Mulvaney, who represented South Carolina's 5th Congressional District for six years before leaving to join the Trump administration.

Even though he is still technically the "acting" chief of staff, Mulvaney has now held the position for longer than Trump's first full-time chief, Reince Priebus. Before that, he served as the Trump administration's budget chief and briefly led a federal consumer watchdog agency, which he aggressively tried to defang.

Mulvaney's visit came after a challenging couple of weeks for congressional Republicans, as a series of top lawmakers have decided to retire — a trend that some political observers believe indicates that Republicans will struggle to improve on their poor 2018 midterm election performance, when they lost the House majority.

But Mulvaney argued that the spate of departures is more attributable to exasperation with a rise in partisanship and congressional inaction.

"They’re more frustrated with the environment in Washington, D.C., and the environment in the country and the inability to get anything done legislatively," Mulvaney told reporters before the dinner. 

As an example, Mulvaney claimed that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told Trump's team that he would only meet with them on border issues if they would stall a bill to change the asylum process.

"That’s just a bunch of crap," Mulvaney said. "You can’t run a country like that, and there are good men and women in both parties who are just sick of that and they don’t want to deal with it."

S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned the party faithful that they will need to keep working hard if they are going to maintain their control of state politics.

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"It's easy for us to get comfortable sometimes with success," McKissick said. "When you get too used to winning, you forget all the hard work that you had to do to make it possible. We can't let that happen."

Graham cautioned that he could have "the first real opponent" he's ever had in former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, noting that Harrison has already raised more than $1.5 million for his campaign.

"But there's not enough money in the world to beat me because of you," Graham told the crowd.

Harrison responded on Twitter with a brief clip intended to convey a simple message: Bring it on.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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