MAGA A-Holes Purge Almost- Normal Establishment A-Holes From South Carolina GOP Leadership
South Carolina, where my family lives in undisclosed locations, has become ground zero for the still-thriving MAGA movement. The good MAGA folk have become even more radicalized after their failed presidential coup and violent insurrection on January 6. And now they're wiping out the old guard. It's like every gangster movie you've ever seen except there's no one you want to root for.
The Daily Beast has a compelling piece about the so-called “RINO purge" that starts from the perspective of the decidedly non-RINO Lenna Smith, who's described as "a fixture in GOP politics in Greenville, South Carolina, for 30 years."
As a prominent anti-abortion activist, [Smith] has in her rolodex nearly everyone notable or influential in conservative circles in the state's most populous county.
OK, the first sign of trouble is that Smith still has a “rolodex."
Here's a video of Smith complaining about a Supreme Court ruling that upheld abortion rights. She declares that “God is in control." Although, if that's true, then God must not have a problem with abortion. Smith's logic here confounds me.
Smith is reportedly on a first-name basis with former South Carolina governors. She's well-connected thanks to that fancy rolodex, but that didn't matter when she showed up at her precinct's annual Republican Party organizing meeting in March. She didn't know anyone there, and she was precinct president! That's a position she wouldn't hold for long.
When it came time to elect the precinct's president for the coming year, one of the newcomers nominated a fellow newcomer, but not a single person nominated Smith. Stunned, she had to nominate herself. "That was a little disheartening," she said.
Nominating yourself for your own leadership role is yet another sign of trouble. She lost the election, which she had to see coming. The candidates who didn't nominate themselves started out with twice as many votes. She tried for the most senior office, then the next, and then the next, until there were no more offices left. I'd laugh if it weren't so pathetic. Oh, what the hell, she's a Republican. I'll laugh anyway.
Smith wasn't the only one humiliated that night (though she might've been the only one who lost multiple positions in a row). Hundreds of new faces showed up at precinct meetings across Greenville County and booted longtime party activists from their positions. The old guard didn't recognize the newcomers, who knew enough about the process to quickly remove the longtime officials from their leadership roles.
"A behind-the-scenes battle is happening," said a Republican operative in the state, "between establishment forces, such as they are in the current GOP, and the far-right, QAnon-believing Trump supporters who want to take over this county party."
Local Tea Party leader and full-blown MAGA kook Pressley Stutts is a major figure in the GOP's growing sedition wing. Stutts believes the 2020 election was “rigged" and the establishment Republicans he's personally annoyed for years did nothing to stop it. Stutts was present at the so-called “Save America" rally and posted supportive messages on social media when the MAGA mob stormed the Capitol. However, he later promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that the insurrectionists were all antifa. He even grossly compared the January 6 siege to “Kristallnacht," the night in 1938 when Nazis carried out coordinated violence against Jews.
Stutts's Facebook page reads like a less-stable Notes from the Underground and he's used the platform as a key organizing tool in his MAGA takeover. He's actively trained the one-term loser's most loyal followers on "how to wield power in local party politics." Stutts, who desires a leadership position in the Greenville GOP, complained in 2018 that South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wouldn't waste valuable time speaking at a Tea Party forum. It seems like he still holds a grudge against establishment leaders in the party.
Stubbs told The Daily Beast that even some of his own friends lost their positions during his MAGA purge, but Dear Leader's instructions were clear.
He said, "Go purge, get rid of the RINOs in the Republican Party." So we took him seriously.
A decade ago, Tea Party conservatives could at least almost articulate a definition of “RINO" that was based in policy. Now, “RINO" refers to any Republican who isn't slavishly devoted to the one-and-done president.
Republican Suzette Jordan, who used to work for former Rep. Trey Gowdy, claims Stutts doesn't comprehend the risks from "ousting leaders with institutional knowledge and skills that have helped the party win elections and build influence."
"It's frustrating to think the party may be turned over to people who have different goals from what we've had for years," she told The Daily Beast. "Their goal is to replace us all. They may succeed."
Spoiler Alert: They already have.
The GOP county convention is April 13, and the new MAGA regime can support their own slate of candidates and send delegates to the state convention in May. Nate Leupp, the current chairman of the Greenville County GOP, grimly notes that “a whole bunch of crazy is going to happen in the next week."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).