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.
Consider results from AP VoteCast, The Associated Press' nationwide survey of the 2018 midterm electorate. Fifty-three percent of voters in South Carolina said they approve of Trump – and 86 percent of Republicans approved.
And the Trump popularity extends throughout the South. The latest Winthrop Poll numbers from November show 80 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning Southerners approve of Trump, who had a 44 percent approval rating among all respondents and a 48 percent disapproval rating. In addition to South Carolina, states surveyed were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Dr. Scott Huffmon, Winthrop Poll director, said, “Trump’s approval is still soaring among his base in the South and his overall approval ratings in the region remain slightly higher than his national numbers.”
The numbers and the lack of any announced Republican opposition to Trump’s re-election have Republicans in some states considering whether to hold primary elections in 2020. South Carolina is among them.
South Carolina's GOP Chairman Drew McKissick told The Associated Press that the party is considering canceling its February 2020 presidential primary.
"At this point, I'm not aware of a need for a primary," McKissick said, citing popularity among South Carolinians and no announced opposition.
"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.
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. The Democratic field could exceed 20 candidates.
South Carolina will be a major 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 will be awash with Democratic hopefuls during 2019 and into 2020 while Republicans, if there is to be no primary, will be sitting on the sidelines. It’s the type of scenario that will make Trump and his backers uncomfortable.
Of course, speculation about not holding a primary may become moot if challengers to Trump surface. As we see it, that is likely. If not Ohio Gov. John Kasich, then Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is the most likely to run. And Orangeburg native and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is also mentioned as a potential challenger.
Republicans do not have to decide now. They have until 90 days before the primary date to notify the state whether they will be voting. We predict come Feb. 22, 2020, South Carolinians will have a choice between voting in a Democratic or Republican primary.