Just a bit over two hours after the polls closed in South Carolina, most of the nationally significant Republican contests have already been decided, and you can bet the story line, particularly in the conservative media, is going to be all about the victory of a diverse set of candidates running on a non-diverse conservative “outsider” message.
Asian-American Nikki Haley is romping to what will probably be a two-to-one victory over Gresham Barrett in the gubernatorial runoff. African-American Tim Scott is beating Paul (Son of Strom) Thurmond handily in SC-01. And incumbent Republican Bob Inglis, he who voted for TARP and dissed Glenn Beck, is being trounced by Tea Party favorite Trey Gowdy. Put aside the individual candidates and their individual races, and it’s clear the harder-core conservative is winning everywhere in this very conservative state. It’s a good night for the Tea Party folk, the Club for Growth (which endorsed not only Scott but also Jeff Duncan, who narrowly beat anti-abortion activist Richard Cash in the race to replace Gresham Barrett in Congress), RedState, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint (who didn’t have to play in any of these races to emerge as the spiritual father of the SC GOP), and the ghost at the banquet, disgraced lame duck Gov. Mark Sanford.
Haley’s winning everywhere in SC other than a few upstate counties in Barrett’s base. Scott’s winning Charleston County by nearly three-to-one. Gowdy’s winning big in Inglis’ Greenville County base. There’s not much ambiguity or drama about the results, and though you are going to hear a lot in the next day or two about Haley’s and Scott’s “personal stories,” the real story is ideology, which trumped every other factor. In particular, it’s clear that Nikki Haley not only didn’t suffer from, but actually benefitted from, two poorly documented allegations of marital infidelity (indeed, her original accuser endorsed her) and various ham-handed slurs about her ethnicity and religion.
So in terms of personalities, this is indeed a very new day for South Carolina Republicans. But looking at it from another angle, the Palmetto State has simply confirmed its ancient reputation as a fine stomping ground for the more aggressive forms of conservatism.