The harsh crescendo of Washington bullheadedness seems to be trickling down into politics across South Carolina.
The impeachment of President Donald Trump may be exacerbating divides in the electorate while also motivating partisans to do more in new ways. Others say the whole thing is a nothingburger.
Regardless, be ready for more tribalism — talking, planning, postulating and politicking among people with the same general worldview — and less listening to people with different viewpoints. Some elected officials, emboldened by Trump’s never-back-down coarseness — may have a harder time getting things done in the Palmetto State because their rhetoric will narrow opportunities for compromise.
But impeachment may bring another impact. While people inclined to stay out of political conversations have calcified in their views, Charleston activist Charlie Smith observes “the shock of what it has done to the rest of us has caused us to get off our butts and do something.”
The swirl of negativity out of Washington has been a pill of anti-complacency. Impeachment, Smith said, seems to be motivating people to show up more at local political events by “pulling people out who are speaking out more on issues who have never spoken before.”
S.C. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he didn’t believe Trump’s impeachment would have much of an immediate impact among voters because it may not change many people’s minds. But just as the 2018 congressional elections ended up being a referendum on Trump that flipped the U.S. House to Democratic control, the impeachment could have a slow burn effect for the 2020 election.
“Trump himself is a lightning rod and should increase voter turnout in the 2020 general election and Democratic presidential primary” in February, Hutto said.
Impeachment seems to have hardened views of colleague Paul Campbell, a GOP senator from Berkeley County.
“President Trump’s impeachment is stupid as there are no laws broken, no high crimes or anything impeachable.” he said. “We have wasted so much time on what could have been legislation for the peoples’ good.”
In general, red South Carolina is ignoring the shenanigans going on in Washington and is moving forward, he said.
“The improved economy in South Carolina is a credit to President Trump. The low unemployment rate is his doing with the tax cuts, job creation, getting folks off welfare and food stamps, reducing red tape on regulations, and in general improving our USA. This and impeachment will have a positive impact on the 2020 election for Republicans.”
Longtime Republican consultant Chip Felkel of Greenville isn’t so sure. Long frustrated by Trump’s volatility and lack of smart governance, Felkel has been a voice for conservatives to moderate shrill voices and work together to solve problems.
“Let’s face it,” he said, “like the rest of the country, we see a lot of tribalism and hyper-partisanship here already. The process hasn’t moved people’s opinions too much. It was anticipated he would be impeached and it’s anticipated he won’t be convicted.
“It would only really affect us here if he were to be convicted — which right now seems unlikely — and if so, only in terms of the ties to the White House by Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.”
Still, Trump’s presidency is making politics everywhere more difficult.
“It’s fair to say this presidency has affected politics everywhere in terms of what was once unheard of, now being common,” Felkel said. “Our politics, here and elsewhere, are much coarser, harsher and hard-edged.
“His style, which many disregard as just Trump being Trump, has certainly contributed to the toxicity. A lot of people want to ignore, forgive or just accept Trump’s ‘Archie Bunker’ style by looking at the economy or what they see as him standing up to other countries.
“That works fine as a CEO of your own company, but I am not sure it’s the best recipe for being the leader of the free world.”
As state lawmakers return to Columbia, let’s hope they take a flask of holiday goodwill and keep it in their pockets. Pull it out when things get testy at the Statehouse in the months ahead. Remember, you work for us and we want progress, not regress.