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Palmetto Politics: An anti-Trump South Carolina primary in 2020? Possible but not likely

August 5, 2017

With Republican grumblings growing against President Donald Trump, does that mean he should be worried about a 2020 presidential primary challenge in South Carolina?

Chances are no.

Former S.C. Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said as long as Trump keeps the Republican National Committee in Washington close and happy, it’s highly unlikely the S.C. GOP Executive Committee will break ranks and agree to hold a primary for any potential challengers.

It has happened here before, however, to a sitting president. In 1992, TV commentator Pat Buchanan drew 26 percent of the GOP primary vote against then-President George H.W. Bush. Former Klansman David Duke was in the mix as well at 7 percent.

As a precaution, Dawson advised Trump to stay close to the RNC, which any GOP POTUS traditionally has great sway over, including controlling its power to help with money and turnout for down-ballot races.

Presidents “own and control the RNC, to a point,” he said.

Still, the Washington scuttlebutt says there are Republicans looking for someone to mount a challenge. Among those seen as potential (right now just potential) opponents in any “Dump Trump” conversation are: U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, and Govs. John Kasich and Scott Walker.

Dawson said if the anti-Trump wing of the GOP gets enough power and a worthy challenger rises, there is a chance South Carolina could revert to the bare-knuckles political battleground that’s become its reputation by agreeing to hold a 2020 vote.

“If you let the party go ‘rogue,’ here it comes,” he said. “And this is a state is known to go rogue.”

S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick, however, doesn’t envision the state party turning on Trump, saying he expects the Executive Committee to eventually support a resolution against holding a primary.

Loftis slams South Carolina solar law

While clean energy advocates are encouraging residents and business owners to consider installing solar panel systems to cut down on power costs, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis is instead urging consumers to be cautious.

And energy experts with the S.C. Solar Business Alliance say Loftis’ warning, including via Twitter, may be warranted.

Loftis said the solar power law passed about two years ago is too vague, leaving consumers often cloudy about the benefits of using the alternative energy.

“I don’t want to wait for it to be evident that the state government has failed the homeowner,” he told Palmetto Politics. “I want to see if we can get this addressed now.”

According to state law, homeowners are granted a tax incentive for purchasing and installing the panels on their property. But if owners choose to lease the panels, that tax incentive goes to the installation company.

“Many of these contracts are overly complicated and vague, and the homeowner doesn’t know if they’re owning the panels or leasing them,” Loftis said.

Grant Reeves, who serves on both the Solar Business Alliance and the S.C. Clean Energy Business Alliance, and who is also a Loftis supporter, agreed that leasing contracts sometimes can be misleading but said that all solar products shouldn’t be lumped together.

Loftis also said the law is unclear about whether solar panels are included in the assessment of a home or business when calculating value and property taxes. Reeves said his organization hopes to get that law clarified.

Loftis wants the state to address the vagueness in the law before taxpayers end up paying money they hadn’t intended to.

“We have a business model in South Carolina where we wait for an issue to fail. Whether it’s a pension fund or nuclear power plant, we wait until all the costs are a burden to the taxpayer,” he said.

Clyburn a step further vs. Trump

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has called some of President Donald Trump’s tweets “unseemly,” while U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of Mount Pleasant has called the drama coming out of the White House “weird.”

The South Carolina congressional delegation’s lone Democrat, however, took things a bit further at an event last week, intimating lawmakers view Trump’s sometimes erratic behavior as perhaps a sign of mental instability.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third ranking House Democrat and most senior black lawmaker on Capitol Hill, told a Connecticut newspaper “there are people (in Congress) who really believe there is something amiss with the president.”

According to the New Haven Independent, Clyburn said: “You don’t continue to say the kinds of things he’s saying and the kinds of things he’s doing if you’re clicking on all cylinders, so I think there are a lot of people worried as to what exactly is going on with him.”

Clyburn was in New Haven to help endorse a Democratic mayoral candidate, appearing at a campaign rally alongside Connecticut Democratic congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.

S.C.’s newest congressman settling in on Capitol Hill

After winning a special election in June, Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of Rock Hill has been assigned to the House Small Business Committee and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

As a former commercial and real estate developer, Norman’s appointment to the Small Business Committee makes sense.

His appointment to Science, Space and Technology more likely is about where there happened to be an opening for a junior lawmaker.

Norman is poised to get more prestigious committee assignments in the next Congress. In the meantime, he is living up to his campaign promise by joining the conservative House Freedom Caucus alongside S.C. Reps. Mark Sanford and Jeff Duncan.

Palmetto Politics reporters Schuyler Kropf, Maya T. Prabhu and Emma Dumain contributed.