CHARLESTON, S.C. - There’s another Civil War taking place in South Carolina right now. This time, however, the warring isn’t between North and South. It’s between the opposing images this southern state holds in the Republican presidential primary process.
On the one side is the state’s role as “king maker.” South Carolina Republicans take pride in the fact that since 1980 every candidate who has won the primary here has gone on to win the nomination.
Iowa and New Hampshire are famous for allowing upstart, underfunded or unconventional candidates to win the day. South Carolina is the place where the conventional and the traditional carry the day.
Think Ronald Reagan in 1980. Or George W. Bush in 2000. Each lost an early state – Reagan lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush. Bush lost New Hampshire to John McCain. But the establishment rallied around those candidates here in South Carolina.
And it’s that tradition that should benefit Romney. He’s ahead in the polls. He’s running a textbook campaign and isn’t making any mistakes. He looks like a nominee.
On the other side, however, is South Carolina’s rebel past. This is a state that still talks about the battle at Fort Sumter as if it happened a few years ago. It’s a place that chaffes under the bridle of the “establishment.” This is the cradle of the Tea Party movement, birthing such leaders as Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Tim Scott and Gov. Nikki Haley.
And right now, the establishment – the media, the pundits, the polls – is telling the rebels that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. And, they don’t like it.
At an event for Newt Gingrich Wednesday at a BBQ joint outside Aiken, a woman said to me: “I feel like they are just trying to shove Mitt Romney down my throat. And I don’t like it.”
So, which South Carolina will show up on Saturday? Right now, it’s clear that the “rebel” side has the momentum. But, unless those rebels coalesce behind one candidate, the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney, will carry the day.