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Politics: Local GOP leaders aren’t concerned about ‘Trump effect’

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A month before the state’s presidential primary, local Republican leaders see the nomination of Donald Trump as inevitable. Unlike other members of the GOP establishment, they say they aren’t worried about the effect that will have on the party.

“People want somebody who’s strong and who will do something,” said Randy Hollister, the Georgetown County GOP chairman. “The frustration is so great they don’t want somebody who just believes in something. Go do something.”

A poll released last week by CBS News/YouGov showed Trump with 40 percent of the vote. Second was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with 21 percent.

While Hollister and other officials are cautious about the polls, the numbers match his own informal metric. “I haven’t had a single call about signs and stickers, except for Trump,” he said. “I get them all the time.”

Hollister isn’t supporting any of the candidates. He wants to maintain a level playing field in order to get the candidates to campaign in Georgetown County. Jerry Rovner, who chairs the GOP in the 7th Congressional District as well as the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club, is also staying uncommitted. But he doesn’t think that will help get Trump to the county. “We couldn’t have Trump here because we don’t have a building big enough,” Rovner said.

He has seen more people coming out to GOP events this year than in the past. But no one draws the crowds like Trump and Cruz, he said. He saw that earlier this month at the S.C. Tea Party Convention in Myrtle Beach. Not only were there standing-room-only crowds for the top two candidates, there was a huge continent of media. After they left, “there was still a good crowd, but it wasn’t as intense,” Rovner said.

“This is the first time in many years the conservative aspect has been out there fighting,” said Judy Clarke, who is president of the Georgetown County Federal of Republican Women. While she acknowledges she is part of the GOP leadership, she disputes the label “establishment.” “I’m very conservative,” she said.

That may be why she has heard more people raise questions about Trump. “We have a lot of people who voice their concern,” Clarke said. “They question his demeanor.”

But Rovner said he has heard from people who find that aspect of Trump refreshing. “People my age can’t spell PC,” he said. “It’s not even political.”

There is a sense that people are simply afraid to talk, not to mention afraid to speak their mind, Rovner said. “People on both sides.”

That has added to the frustration Hollister sees. “That’s what’s driving his appeal and I don’t think anybody can take that away from him,” he said. “Trump has a commanding lead in South Carolina and elsewhere and I don’t see much changing that.”

Whomever the Republicans nominate will have support in South Carolina, Hollister said. “Almost anybody who has Republican feelings would prefer Trump to anybody the Democrats put up.”

In fact, he’s more concerned with the Democratic nominee. “A Biden-Warren ticket from the Democratic convention concerns me a lot more than Hillary [Clinton],” Hollister said.

“Young people don’t want a Clinton or Bush,” Rovner said.

Neither one has had any calls from party officials trying to derail the Trump express. “I haven’t heard any talk about that in Georgetown or Horry county,” said Tom Swatzel, a former county GOP chairman who is now a political consultant. He is working on local campaigns including Lee Hewitt’s bid for House District 108. While Swatzel hopes Hewitt will reach November unopposed, he isn’t concerned about the impact of a Trump presidential campaign on local GOP candidates.

“Donald Trump has been a phenomenon as far as his ability to attract attention,” Swatzel said. “He may actually turn out more people if he becomes the nominee.”

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