COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As political observers mull the future of the Republican Party following the presidency of Donald Trump, the former president is making it clear that he’s going to continue to play an active part. Trump is endorsing South Carolina’s GOP chairman Drew McKissick for a third term, wading not only into state-level politics but also playing a role in maintaining the local party framework in places that backed his presidency.
“He asked if I had anybody running against me, and I said, ‘No, and I’m trying to keep it that way,’” McKissick told The Associated Press on Monday, describing his call with Trump more than a week ago. “He said, ’Yeah, that’s the best way to do it.'”
McKissick, a longtime Republican activist and consultant, since 2017 has chaired the GOP in South Carolina, where Republicans control both legislative chambers, all statewide offices and all but one congressional seat. Home of the first-in-the-South presidential primaries, South Carolina plays a crucial role in the nominating process, hosting numerous candidates seeking their party’s top slots.
Trump’s South Carolina ties are deep. In 2016, then-Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster was the country’s first statewide-elected official to back Trump, whose primary win here helped cement his frontrunner status. Trump then cleared the way for McMaster’s promotion by naming then-Gov. Nikki Haley U.N. Ambassador.
Despite feuding in 2016, Trump and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham have developed a close relationship, particularly over Graham’s advocation for Trump’s judicial nominees. Graham’s shifting positions on Trump have at times been at odds, but a recent visit to Mar-a-Lago seems to indicate that the alliance remains.
As chairman, McKissick has remained a steadfast Trump supporter, successfully calling off the state’s 2020 Republican primary in favor of throwing support behind the incumbent, with McKissick saying Trump faced “no legitimate primary challenger” and had a “record of results” for the state.
Now, as some in the GOP broadly ponder a reckoning in the post-Trump era, state parties across the country under the leadership of chairs like McKissick have shown their loyalty, keeping Trump at the center of the local GOP brand.
After Rep. Tom Rice was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump over what Rice saw as his failure to calm the Capitol Hill riots, McKissick said that night that he was “severely disappointed” in Rice’s vote. When the state GOP swiftly censured Rice two weeks later, McKissick said the move was state party leaders letting Rice know “they wholeheartedly disagree with his decision.”
Many, including Rice himself, expect the five-term congressman to face several primary challengers next year.
Now, as a measure of public support, Trump is rewarding McKissick by backing his chairmanship renewal. It’s similar to a move Trump made in Arizona, where controversial state GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward – among Trump’s most unflinching supporters and prolific promoters of his unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud – was reelected following a public endorsement from Trump.
At that same meeting, Arizona Republicans voted to censure Cindy McCain and two other prominent GOP members who have found themselves crosswise with Trump.
McKissick says the former president’s imprint on the Republican Party remains “tremendous” and that he fully expects Trump to play a major role in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.
“He definitely has a tremendous leadership position in our party, just by virtue of how the people who have come into our party under his leadership, came into our party,” McKissick told AP, citing what he saw as Trump’s fulfillment of campaign promises on immigration reform, conservative judicial appointments and restricting abortion.
“I don’t see those issues going away. I don’t see those people going away,” McKissick said. “That’s what people were able to see in our party, with President Trump.”
The state GOP will officially vote on its chairman at a convention planned for May.
As for 2022, McKissick – also serving on the Republican National Committee’s nearly formed election integrity committee – said he fully expects Trump to hold primary and general election “MAGA rallies all across the country,” noting the more than $250 million raised by the former president in the weeks following his election loss.
“That buys a lot of jet fuel,” McKissick said.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.