Palmetto RINOs

The drama surrounding Jim DeMint’s sudden resignation from the Senate continues to unfold down in South Cackalacky, where Gov. Nikki Haley must soon appoint an interim Senator to serve until a special election in 2014 (DeMint’s term runs out in 2016).

The only thing we know for sure is that Haley has ruled out any maneuver to get herself appointed to the Senate gig (smart of her, since her perpetually flagging popularity in the state would not be enhanced by a self-aggrandizing step that has very rarely worked out for others who have tried it over the years).

So now more than before, the odds are high that Haley will choose Rep. Tim Scott (whom DeMint himself is reported to prefer), giving the national GOP the symbolic bragging point of an Asian-American woman tapping an African-American man in the state that sent John C. Calhoun and Strom Thurmond to the Senate.

You’d figure that would make local wingnuts in the Palmetto State happy, given Scott’s hard-right political profile (a 92% rating from the Club For Growth, and 96% from the American Conservative Union).

But this is South Carolina. Prominent (and perpetually troublesome) conservative blogger Will Folks–the former Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley staffer made famous in 2010 by his so-far-unsubstantiated claims of having an affair with Haley–is trying to stir up DeMint supporters into a revolt against the putative choice of Scott:

Scott was elected on the strength of support from fiscal conservatives, but has repeatedly bent to the will of the GOP establishment in Washington, D.C. In fact his self-serving vote in support of a “Boeing bailout” proves he’s part of the problem in our nation’s capital … just as his recent endorsement of fiscally liberal S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell shows he’s part of the problem here at home.

DeMint’s legacy of liberty promotion and taxpayer protection in Washington, D.C. has been unrivaled in recent years. Haley needs to honor that legacy by appointing someone who will continue to advance it – not someone who will ask “how high” whenever establishment Republicans in Washington tell him its time to “jump.”

Folks is among those who prefer Rep. Michael Mulvaney (who had already expressed an interest in running for DeMint’s seat if he retired in 2016) or state senator Tom Davis (a former Sanford chief of staff who’s been a leading critic of Lindsay Graham) to Scott. It’s hard to imagine anyone possessing less pull with Haley than Folks, but it is interesting that it’s possible in the funhouse mirror of South Carolina politics for someone to talk about Tim Scott as though he’s some sort of squishy RINO. We’ll hear a lot more of that kind of talk if Haley takes still another path of appointing former SC Attorney General Henry McMaster–who supplied her with a helpful runoff endorsement in 2010 after his own gubernatorial campaign went south–as a “caretaker” Senator, letting conservatives fight it out for the gig in 2014. That is the scenario, BTW, that would most please Lindsay Graham, whom “true” conservatives have been warily circling in hopes of launching a primary challenge to his renomination in 2014.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.