CHARLESTON, SC (AP) — Two days after losing a bitter primary to a rival she once saw as “betrayal” for working occasionally with Democrats, Katie Arrington appeared at a “unity rally to urge Republicans in South Carolina to rally together and support Rep. Nancy Mace in the fall general election.
Republicans, Arrington said, “may fight like banshees inside the house, but once we walk through that door, it’s a team, a fight.”
The cordial tone was striking in a Republican Party increasingly defined by an absolutist approach to politics. Former President Donald Trump, who backed Arrington, once refused to commit to backing his GOP rivals if they emerged victorious in the 2016 presidential primary. Since then, the party’s win-at-all-costs mentality only deepened, with any nod to compromise rejected.
Senator John Cornyn, for example, was mocked at the Republican convention in Texas last week after working with Democrats on modest changes to gun laws after a school massacre in the state last month. Eric Greitens, a GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, posted an ad this week showing the Rep with a gun as he goes on a “hunt” for so-called RINOs, which stands for Republicans in name only. The video was so graphic that Facebook deleted it and Twitter prevented it from being shared.
That’s what made the scene in South Carolina so remarkable. Aware that the Coastal Congressional District is one of the few places in the state where Democrats have been competitive, Republicans said it was important to overcome internal party divisions.
“We have to put our weight behind a selected candidate that most people wanted and be united in that,” said Roger O’Sullivan, a Mount Pleasant retiree who voted for Arrington but will support Mace in the future. “It won’t happen tonight, but it definitely has to happen by November.”
Charleston-area voter JoAnne Knapp also expressed optimism that 1st District Republicans will come together even if they don’t always agree, likening the split to a union of spouses who maintain their points. individual points of view, but make compromises if necessary.
“It’s kind of like a wedding,” Knapp said. “If you stay firm in your ways, it’s not going to last.”
Mace angered many Republicans with his criticism of Trump, especially after he sparked the Jan. 6 uprising on the U.S. Capitol. The violence, which unfolded during Mace’s first week in office, undermined Trump’s “entire legacy”, she said at the time. And while she’s a reliable conservative vote in Congress, she’s occasionally worked with Democrats on issues like defending the LGBTQ community, legalizing marijuana, and bolstering cybersecurity infrastructure.
Acknowledging that “people still feel very passionate” about the direction of the GOP, Republican Charleston County Chairman Maurice Washington said he was “optimistic” the party could unite against Democrat Annie Andrews at the fall.
“We need to rid the party of the ‘old guard, new guard’ and lose that term ‘RINO,'” Washington said, nicknamed those who some don’t consider to be true conservatives. “It’s not a question of unity, it’s a question of trust. And unless we close that trust gap, as well as the unity gap, we’re not going to be successful. … But it’s a good start.”
Beyond South Carolina, other Republicans have made efforts to bring the party together after a tough primary. After being soundly beaten in Georgia’s GOP contest for governor last month, Trump-backed David Perdue said he trusted voters and would “make sure” Republicans beat Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election.
But some GOP efforts to encourage reconciliation have not always worked as expected. At an event last month intended to rally Republicans around the party’s candidate for governor of Nebraska, Trump-backed candidate in the race, Charles Herbster, made only a brief appearance and left without endorse the winner, Jim Pillen.
And earlier this week in the Alabama Senate runoff, Rep. Mo Brooks acknowledged that “voters have spoken” in choosing Katie Britt as the GOP nominee. But, he added, “they may not have spoken wisely.”
And even in South Carolina, Arrington took on a more heated tone just a day after the unity event. She called in on a Charleston-area radio show to swear that while she was “all for unity in the party” and would work to secure Mace’s re-election, she would also “rally” her supporters to make to understand to Mace their point of view which she needs. to move away from conciliation with the Democrats.
“The only way to hold her accountable is to stay on top of her,” Arrington said.
“I’m going to be Nancy Mace’s worst nightmare,” she continued. “She’s going to have to understand that we’re not going to be complacent. … I want a Republican to succeed, but I want a conservative Republican to succeed.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press