The Green Papers Commentary

Momentum shifts and puts Texas Governor in driver's seat for GOP Nomination

Sunday, February 20, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

The 53%-42% drubbing of John McCain by Texas Governor George W. Bush in South Carolina's Republican Primary on Saturday 19 February has, while it hasn't knocked the Arizona Senator out of the race, certainly knocked him for a loop. Momentum has once again shifted and both Bush and McCain now find themselves just about where they were about a month ago- even before the Iowa Caucuses which McCain had boycotted. The Texan is once again the front-runner and the Arizonan is left once again hoping for a primary victory which will make him a viable alternative to Bush for the GOP Nomination.

The sad fact of the matter for John McCain is that South Carolina is a rather conservative state which has not historically well tolerated insurgents; the residents of the Palmetto State have always tended toward order and gentility. This is a state which, after all, did not have county government the equivalent to that in the other states until the mid-1970's (prior to this, South Carolina's counties- with some exceptions- had county boards appointed by the governor on the advice of the county's state legislators; local laws, in most cases, were subject to approval by the General Assembly- the state's legislature); hell!- the state didn't even HAVE counties until Reconstruction! (instead it had districts- some of which were, for judicial purposes, subdivided into "counties"; but it was the district which was the major civil division of the state prior to 1868 which counties [and Louisiana's parishes] were and are in the other states). The 50 states of the Union- although they are, of course, the constituent parts of a federation- are themselves unitary in nature; the Palmetto State has had a political tradition which made it the most unitary of them all!

What's that you say? What about all that Nullification stuff and that little Secession thing back in the 19th Century?! If that wasn't Insurgency, then what IS?? But Nullification and Secession were, in the minds of the Palmetto State's inhabitants of those times, not insurgent but- rather- counterinsurgent! They were seen as attempts to retain order and stability instead of efforts to undermine them; antebellum South Carolinians saw Abolitionism as a threat to such order and stability- likewise did they view the post-World War II Civil Rights movement as so many of them today view attempts by the heirs of that movement to make them stop flying the banner of their one-time Secession in their own state's capital!! To South Carolina, that which often comes from outside its borders is the insurgency to be repulsed not what it itself does in its efforts to effect the repulsion.

And so John McCain- maverick, insurgent: a threat to the natural order which the high muckety-mucks of the GOP have decreed, that George W. Bush be the warrior most fit to carry the Republican sword against the Democrats they so despise come the Fall- found himself quite unpalatable to the Republicans of South Carolina; not enough Independents and Democrats came forth on the Arizonan's behalf in the Palmetto State's open primary and- lo!- the natural order of things WAS restored and order and stability brought back to a Republican presidential nomination race which was made so unstable by those "Live Free or Die!" New Hampshiremen nearly three weeks earlier. It can only now get worse for the Arizona Senator, for- just as the Palmetto State was joined in its Secession by the 10 other states which eventually formed the short-lived Confederate States of America- it is sure to be joined by Republicans in most of its former sisters of that old Confederacy in rejecting John McCain and thereby promoting the fortunes of George W. Bush who, after all, currently governs one of those sister former Confederate states!

For we now know that John McCain cannot so easily win in those Southern states which will make up a large part of the GOP primary vote come both Tuesday 7 March and again a week thereafter; the Arizonan will soon find that- given the outcome in South Carolina- the same "anti-insurgency" seen in that voting will be much in evidence throughout what was once- up till only a generation ago- the "Solid South" for Democrats and which is now coalescing into just as solid a South for the Republicans. In addition, McCain now finds himself (thanks to the concept of "Winner-Take-All" primaries, as harsh an obstacle to a challenger to the apparent choice of his own party's hierarchy as the notion of Unpledged PLEOs is to the challenger in the other major party) beginning to fall behind the Texas Governor in the cumulative delegate count unless he himself keeps pace in terms of primary victories. The Arizonan now MUST win the Republican primary in his own home state come Tuesday 22 February (as I have said he must do in my Commentaries even before New Hampshire voted back on 1 February) but, more importantly, he also MUST win Michigan's GOP primary that same day; anything less than this and John McCain is pretty much left to be a nuisance candidate in the Republican race against a George W. Bush who will thereafter certainly be viewed as the nominee-presumptive: the Arizona Senator's battling through 7 and even 14 March will then become merely a futile gesture, a vehicle of protest only for the "Anybody but Bush" crowd- assuming his candidacy even survives that long with such a double loss come Tuesday 22 February!

The only good news for McCain to come out of South Carolina is that, had Steve Forbes stayed in the hunt for the GOP presidential nomination, a loss such as this in the Palmetto State would have knocked the Arizonan out of the race; with Forbes out, however, McCain gets at least one more chance to tackle the Texas Governor head on- but he is fast running out of such chances and all of that momentum he had built up coming away from his big victory in the Granite State has now all but dissipated. Yet McCain also has to face the fact that- regardless of what happens in Arizona and Michigan come 22 February- he is clearly something of a pariah to the GOP voter in the South, now clearly a Republican bailiwick, and that this is a hurdle that is going to make it that much more difficult for Senator McCain to wrest the Republican presidential nomination from Governor Bush.

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