The End of the South Carolina Firewall?

In politics, it’s awfully risky to write off or underestimate the relevance of a person or movement. After President Obama was elected, the CW was that the Republican Party would need to moderate itself or face marginalization. Even Paul Krugman, who has a better track record than anyone on earth, warned several weeks before Obama’s inauguration that Republicans “will discover that they need to get in touch with the real ‘real America,’ a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.”

It turns out that Mr. Krugman was insufficiently cynical, as the GOP neither needed nor wanted to do anything of the kind, choosing instead to exacerbate its myopia in 2010, electing, among others, Rand Paul and Rick Scott. As for tolerance and diversity, the GOP has almost no outreach to the gay community, save for an organization aligned with noted civil rights activist Ann Coulter, and its efforts to bring Hispanics into the fold have been laughable. Effective government? Mitt Romney — considered by the conservative base to be a crypto liberal — brags that as President he’ll immediately repeal the ACA and replace it with…nothing.

This is a long way of saying that, though political predictions are a tough racket, I’ll happily offer one of my own: When Mitt Romney wins Florida, and subsequently the nomination, South Carolina, long known as “The Firewall”, will cease to be an electorally pivotal station of the cross in the GOP’s nominating process.

As Michael Scherer put it a few years ago:

From its inception, the South Carolina Republican primary was meant to disrupt and destroy the flames of political passion. Lee Atwater, the party’s onetime strategic wizard, designed the thing to give conservative southerners a say in the presidential process and offer churchgoers a power line to the White House.

That’s not what happened this year: by all accounts, conservative southerners had their say with a vengeance when they handed Newt Gingrich a thirteen point win. But that may be as good as it gets: the Palmetto State, rather than being, in Scherer’s words, “the ideal spot for the party establishment to kill an insurgent candidate’s momentum,” will instead be known as host to the insurgents’ last gasp — a slight setback on the road to a massive, establishment-fueled victory.

This is pie-in-the-sky, sure, but maybe if South Carolina is no longer seen as a must-win for the GOP, its candidates might be less inclined to brutalize each other?