GOP Convention 2011–South Carolina

With the presidential race slowly taking shape, South Carolina has become ground zero for political junkies.

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 South Carolina GOP Convention.

Pleasure is an understatement. This was one of the best state conventions I have ever attended.

South Carolina dragged out the festivities by teaming up with Fox News to present the first 2012 presidential debate. That was on Thursday. Friday was the Silver Elephant Dinner followed by the convention the next day.

I came in a few days early and spoke throughout the entire state. I covered Hilton Head Island at the Southern tip all the way to Greenville up North.

I would like to thank Thomas Hatfield of the First Monday Club in Hilton Head, Rich Bolen of the Lexington GOP, Thomas Fort of the Midland Club in Columbia, and Dennis Saylor of the Aiken GOP for welcoming a complete stranger into their clubs and letting him leave a South Carolinian.

For those wanting to know anything and everything about South Carolina politics, Jane Page Thompson is the energizer rabbit of the state.

Yet if there are two people that will stay in my heart always, it is Claude and Sunny O’Donovan. Claude is the Vice Chair of the Aiken GOP. Aiken might be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. If it is not the Jewel of South Carolina, I do not know what is.

I arrived in South Carolina on May 1and drove from Columbia to Aiken where I met Claude and Sunny. That night we all watched as the news unfolded about Bin Laden’s death. I will always remember that when the worst of the worst died, I was spending time with the best of the best of people.

Much of South Carolina feels the same way, since Claude and Sunny won the annual volunteer of the year award. The GOP is lucky to have them.

Bin Laden’s death allowed me to immediately insert new material into my routine.

“Osama Bin Laden is now burning in hell with 72 Helen Thomases.”

“Osama Bin Laden did in death what none of us could do in life…get the Royal Wedding out of the news.”

“In further news, Osama Bin Laden is still dead and the Royal Wedding is still boring.”

“In conspiracy news, Donald Trump truly does dictate to Barack Obama. This is why the news of Bin Laden’s death was not released until after the Celebrity Apprentice episode that night had concluded.”

Thursday was more than just the debate. It was an entire day of festivities from morning until night, all in Greenville.

A luncheon honoring the South Carolina Republican Women was fantastic. I speak at many of these luncheons, but with 5 events in 3 days I was happy to be a quiet guest. Speakers included outgoing GOP Chair Karen Floyd, NFRW President Sue Lynch, and Senator Rick Santorum’s wife Karen.

Mrs. Santorum might be one of the loveliest people you will meet. They have 7 children, and their youngest is a miracle baby. The child was not expected to make it past one year, but recently celebrated a 3rd birthday.

Those who wish to demonize Rick Santorum for being a social conservative should get to know his wife.

As for Sue Lynch, she lit the room up. Although she has a folksy neighborly Wisconsin demeanor, she gets real tough when she gets to politics. She spoke about going to places in Nigeria to help them learn how to have free elections.

She also recently attended an AIPAC event, as well as a trip to Israel. She gave a full-throttled defense of Israel, and made it clear that Republican Women’s Federated ladies around America were going to learn and understand why Israel matters. The NFRW Convention in Kansas City later this year will focus on advocacy, and will have an Israel workshop.

After the NFRW luncheon came the Greenville Tea Party. Chris Lawton put the event together. For 4 hours before the debate, tons of speakers gave quick remarks. I gave a 3 minute speech, which is harder than speaking at length. 3 minutes was enough, and Chris kept the trains running precisely on time.

Governor Nikke Haley spoke for a few minutes at this event. The Tea Party backed her early on, and she continues to repay that loyalty. Governor Haley is a lovely person. She is kind and friendly. With many people, she prefers giving them a hug to a handshake. She is warm and down to Earth.

I met her a couple of times during this week. I told her that I disliked her stance on traditional marriage, that being that she was married to somebody not me. I also let her know that if she ever wants a pay cut and a loss of prestige, I will pay her flight if she will become California Governor over Jerry Brown. She declined my marriage and business proposals, but was good-natured about it.

The debate itself, unfortunately, was nonsense. Without Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, or Newt Gingrich, this really was the third tier in attendance.

The only candidate close to even having a chance at being 1st tier was Tim Pawlenty, who probably should have skipped it. Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are dark horses who perform well. Cain got the best one-liners while Santorum came across as very serious, sober, and statesmanlike. I felt he won the debate. Pawlenty meandered too much. He is a great guy, but took too long to make his points.

Ron Paul was actually not the biggest crackpot at this debate, which says a lot. He still has his cult following, but at least this time Dr. Paul made a very useful point that I was happy to hear. He has been criticized by some as anti-Semitic for wanting to cut off all aid to Israel. His defenders said that he wants to cut off all foreign aid to everybody.

So when Dr. Paul was asked if the United States should stop Israel from attacking Iran, he got it right. He unequivocally made clear that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that the United States has no business telling Israel what to do. I still disagree with Dr. Paul on much of his foreign policy views, but I can now clearly say that he has no malice in his heart.

New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was on stage, which pretty much devalued the event. He is a nice guy whose supporters are known for wanting to legalize marijuana. The stoner vote hopefully is not that large a share of the GOP. When Johnson was asked what type of reality tv show he would want to star in, politics really had been dumbed down.

The candidates were all asked about the other candidates not in attendance, which was a backhanded way of implying that the men on stage did not matter. Rick Santorum did win, and he won the convention straw poll with 37% of the vote. No other candidate topped 11%. Despite having his cult following, Ron Paul only got 2%. His offbeat libertarian hybrid fusion whatever it is does not seem to resonate in the Bible Belt. In all fairness, unlike at CPAC, his supporters here were polite, friendly, and pretty normal for the most part.

While every other major candidate skipped the debate, most of the candidates at the debate immediately left. Only Senator Santorum stayed and did other events.  I attended a luncheon of his on Friday, and he was fantastic. He gave his word that when he gets demonized, he will fight back. George W. Bush allowed his critics to define him, and Senator Santorum will not do that. Senator Santorum is very socially conservative, but there is not an ounce of malice or bigotry inside him. People who disagree with him should do so without being vicious.

I asked Senator Santorum a question he will always remember.

“Senator, given your principled stands, would you still be pro-life if modern technology were to show that the child would grow up to be ideologically defective like Barbara Boxer or Nancy Pelosi?”

He was masterful, and replied, “I have hope for every single child.”

I asked Senator Jim Demint the same question at the convention and he replied, “Now that is a hard decision, you made it hard.”

Senator Lindsey Graham was there as well, and reminded him that I was very impressed with his role as one of the 1998 House Impeachment Managers. He had the best line of the entire impeachment when he seriously intoned, “The White House is a bully pulpit, but it should never be occupied by a bully.” That line certainly applies today.

Senator Santorum was also the keynote speaker at the Silver Elephant Dinner. I did sneak away from the dinner only because it was Friday night. I quietly slipped out and went to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Columbia, not too far from the convention center. I managed to catch the very end of the service. It is a lovely synagogue.

Saturday was the convention itself. A spirited race to become the next State Chair of the South Carolina GOP took place between Chad Connelly, Bill Connor, and Stephen Brown. I met them all throughout the week, and they are all good men with bright political futures. Chad Connelly was the winner, and South Carolina is lucky to have him.

The GOP is much more diverse than the stereotypes from know-nothings. The Second Vice Chair of the party is black, as is their National Committeeman.

The Congressmen of South Carolina are fabulous.

Tim Scott is a freshman rising star, one of two black conservatives along with Colonel Allen West. Mr. Scott is also very friendly, very likable, and very principled. The guy is simply fantastic.

Jeff Duncan is another one to be on the lookout for. Aiken takes pride in putting him over the top.

Veteran Joe Wilson has been caricatured simply as the guy who said “You lie” during the State of the Union. It is unfair to reduce a man based on that. Congressman Wilson is not only a nice guy, but a brilliant historian. He told me things about Judaism and its interconnection with South Carolina that I had no idea about. He also can tell you about the various rotary clubs set up in Russia. He really is an amazing mix of historical facts and figures. His historical intelligence is off the charts.

Strom Thurmond’s son is very well regarded in the state, and is successful.

On several occasions, I also met former Governor Mark Sanford. We all know what happened to him, and yes he did it to himself. He knows that. The guy is also a human being, and a very approachable one. He seemed at peace, and I had the chance to speak with him on three separate occasions. Those on the left who wish to ridicule him should get their own moral houses in order. Whatever he did in his personal life, he was certainly good for South Carolina politically. He left the state in good hands.

All in all, the one thing that I can say about South Carolina is that it works. Politically, it is functional. From Governor Haley on down, it is a great place for a Republican to be.

More importantly, the people are just really fine people. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of South Carolina political life for an entire week. I look forward to coming back many times over.

To the South Carolina GOP, and especially the Aiken GOP, I simply say thank you.

On to the next adventure.


4 Responses to “GOP Convention 2011–South Carolina”

  1. “All in all, the one thing that I can say about South Carolina is that it works.”


    South Carolina has an 11% unemployment rate.

    It is a welfare state, with a $1.38 return on federal taxes.

    A 15.7% poverty rate.

    THE HIGHEST violent crime rate in the nation.

    Yeah. South Carolina and the GOP work splendid together.

    One day you will admit today’s modern American conservatism is a mistake. You won’t be able to look at your grandchildren with a straight face and say otherwise.


  2. Eagle 6 says:

    Tim Pawlenty spoke as a salesman/politician and is far too eager to please to get my vote. I’ve been listening to Herman Cain for years – he’s a stand up guy who not only doesn’t mince words, but he’s not tied to any political machine – something the public wants right now. We are tired of Republicans who spend money, turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, and continue the welfare state that has defined the US for the past 10 years… If he can get legs, I will not only vote for Herman Cain, I will actively campaign for him. We need a leader, not a manager, politician, or mouthpiece.

  3. Cain says he believes rape is not just cause for abortion, that we should go back to the gold standard, and that rightwing Christianity would be a litmus test for his cabinet.

    Are you guys seriously thinking about this guy???


  4. Eagle 6 says:

    Jersey, From the above blog and corresponding responses, it appears I’m the only “guy seriously thinking about this guy”…thus far! For arguments’ sake, let’s just say that Cain actually said the precise words attributed to him above and there has been no embellishment…

    First, I have long contended that politicians’ positions on abortion are personal and have little, if any effect on our laws. We have a legislative branch for laws. Abortion has been a lightning rod for many years, and the only reason it gets so much press is because the federal government got involved through funding. Take the funding out of the equation, and I hazard that rightwingers will still make noise and liberal leg-spreaders will still make babies to abort, but the impetus for passing laws would be greatly diminished. Abortion is a personal choice.

    Second, what was wrong with the gold standard? ANY standard seems to be better than simply printing money.

    Finally I think rightwing Christianity would be a great litmus test for his cabinet. Although many have had zipper problems, monetary challenges, and other personal shortcomings, as a rule, we find that rightwing Christians are more likely to be charitable for charity’s sake – not for posturing… are more likely to establish and enforce laws already on the books (i.e. enforce illegal immigration laws versus make stuff up to satisfy wild-eyed drooling talking point oxygen thieves)… are more likely to encourage independence and provide opportunities for our current slaves (those living on the government dole who have cell phones, electricity, flush toilets, internet, 54 inch TVs with cable, cars, and spare change for lottery tickets, cigarettes, beer, and a dog).

    Right now we have roughly 50% of our population who is not accountable for anything. Fortunately, most of them won’t vote unless someone carries them to the polls and tells them who to vote for. Unfortunately, the number is growing rapidly. We need a leader who will cut this cancerous mentality out. Cain can do it.

    For the record, Obama says a lot of things…spread the wealth, 54 states, let’s get gas prices up to European levels, and most impressively, “Let me be clear”…. hahahahahhaha I have Clear internet services… it’s not plugged in either…

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