National poll numbers consistently show more than 50 percent of Americans disapprove of the job being done by President Donald Trump. But the numbers may be as misleading as the popular vote outcome in the 2016 presidential election. The president is unpopular in “blue” Democratic states and quite popular in traditionally “red” Republican states.
Fifty-three percent of voters in South Carolina said they approve of Trump – and 86% of Republicans approve, according to AP VoteCast, The Associated Press' nationwide survey of the 2018 midterm electorate.
And the numbers are holding. The Winthrop Poll from April showed nearly 80% of Republican or Republican-leaning South Carolinians approve of Trump.
The numbers and the lack of Republican opposition to Trump’s re-election have had Republicans here considering whether to hold primary election in 2020.
South Carolina's GOP Chairman Drew McKissick told The Associated Press in December that the party is weighing cancellation of its February 2020 presidential primary.
"The state party and the grassroots within the state, all around the state, totally support the president," McKissick said. "The purpose of political parties is to unify around the platform and elect candidates who will advance that platform."
South Carolina Republicans have reason to be proud of their primary. Since its 1980 inception, the winner in the “first in the South” primary has become the eventual Republican nominee in all but one year. Republican nominee Mitt Romney finished second behind winner Newt Gingrich in 2012. And in some years, the primary has been critical in reinvigorating the campaign of the eventual nominee after early setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire.
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There is, however, precedent for not holding a primary. In 1984, the GOP called off the GOP vote as President Ronald Reagan sought a second term. The same was done when President George W. Bush was seeking a second term in 2004.
As a rule, Republican presidents fair better in the general election when they face no primary opposition. That may not be the case with Trump.
The president thrives on campaigning. If states in which he is most popular do not hold primaries, far less attention will be paid to the GOP campaign than otherwise would be the norm. And that lack of attention will come as Democrats are amid a major race for the party’s nomination.
South Carolina is a key battleground for those Democrats, with the primary on Feb. 29 falling fourth on the electoral calendar. And it will be only the second primary for the field of candidates. New Hampshire votes on Feb. 11 after Iowa’s caucuses on Feb. 3 and before Nevada’s caucuses on Feb. 22.
The Palmetto State is awash with Democratic hopefuls while Republicans, if there is to be no primary, essentially will remain on the sidelines.
More important now, however, in the primary decision is the presence of opposition to the president. Joining former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman and tea party favorite who is now a radio talk show host. Former S.C. Congressman Mark Sanford is also testing the waters and there remains the possibility that former Ohio Gov. John Kasich will enter the race.
The contenders may be considered long shots, but they are legitimate candidates.
Republicans have until 90 days before the primary date to notify the state whether they will be voting. In a solidly "red" state such as South Carolina with the numbers showing overwhelming support for Trump, Republicans and independents seemingly would welcome the opportunity to give the president a big primary victory.