Trump’s South Carolina Endorsements Highlight Ties to GOP Establishment

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Donald Trump has often promoted himself as an outsider candidate whose “America First” agenda opposes the entrenched political establishment. Yet, the former president endorses numerous candidates who embody that establishment.

In a recent instance of his tendency to support the establishment GOP, Trump involved himself in South Carolina politics by endorsing House Speaker G. Murrell Smith and other GOP legislative leaders for reelection.

“South Carolina Speaker of the House Murrell Smith and his America First Members are doing a FANTASTIC job fighting for the Great People of South Carolina! They are working tirelessly to grow the Economy, stop Inflation, cut Regulations, provide GREAT Health Care, secure the Border, defend our always under siege Second Amendment, and champion American Energy DOMINANCE,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “…They all have my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

It’s true that Smith and South Carolina’s Republican legislative leadership have done a “FANTASTIC job” — just not for the conservative voters who put them in office.

Contrary to Trump’s assertion, South Carolina is one of the worst GOP establishment hotbeds in the country. An in-depth analysis published by The Daily Wire in April 2023, for instance, found that Republicans in South Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature had a more liberal voting record than their Republican counterparts in “blue” states such as Delaware and New York. The only state where GOP lawmakers had a more liberal voting record than South Carolina was Hawaii.

RINOs Run the Palmetto State

South Carolina Republican leadership’s abysmal track record has only continued into the Palmetto State’s 2024 legislative session, where the establishment has worked overtime to stifle conservative priorities supported by members of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus (SCFC) and large swaths of the Republican electorate.

In January, over 60 House Republicans defeated an amendment to a bill prohibiting so-called “gender affirming care” for minors — the amendment established penalties for doctors who provide such harmful procedures to children. Among the Republicans to support tabling the amendment were Smith and Majority Leader David Hiott, both of whom Trump endorsed in the same Truth Social post.

Fortunately, the amendment ultimately passed due to outside pressure from the SCFC and former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who called out the House GOP on X for failing to protect the children in their state.

The GOP establishment’s antics seemingly got worse in the months that followed. Later in the session, House Republicans attempted to confirm James Smith — South Carolina Democrats’ 2018 gubernatorial nominee and an “advocate” for Planned Parenthood — to a state judgeship. Despite receiving the backing of Speaker Smith, the nomination was rejected last month.

More recent instances of House GOP leadership fighting the will of Republican voters include defeating a budget amendment preventing state agencies from providing voter registration forms to noncitizens and attempting to ram through what critics refer to as a “health czar” bill. While Rep. Josiah Magnuson (an SCFC member) used a procedural move to prevent the latter’s passage on the last day of the 2024 session, Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, recently voiced support for passing the measure during next month’s special legislative session.

Trump’s Bad Endorsements Hurt His Voters

While Americans are welcome to support whomever they choose in any given primary, Trump’s endorsement gives the impression that the candidate receiving his support is the more conservative choice — when that may not be the case.

As I previously noted, Trump’s backing of establishment Republicans is a common occurrence that hurts his — and more significantly, his voters’ — agenda. Take, for example, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who has done virtually nothing but side with Democrats in fighting Trump and Republican voters since getting elected with Trump’s support in 2018.

Judging by his recent slew of South Carolina endorsements and support for feckless House Speaker Mike Johnson, it appears that Trump still hasn’t learned from his past mistakes.

As head of the Republican Party, Trump has an obligation to his voters to ensure the candidates he’s backing in primaries are ones who will advance conservative priorities. Anything short of that is simply kowtowing to the same establishment that’s subverted him in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Shawn Fleetwood
Shawn Fleetwood
Shawn Fleetwood is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington, where he acquired a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Journalism. His work has been featured in several other news publications, such as RealClearPolitics, RealClearDefense, The Federalist, and Conservative Review.

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