Hicks column: Not everyone in the choir is singing from the same page

January 20, 2017 GMT

Republicans have waited a long time for this day.

Well, 10 years.

This afternoon, the GOP will control both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time since early 2007.

Sort of. President-elect Donald Trump earlier this week promised something that sounded suspiciously like a single-payer health care system and criticized the Republican tax-cut plan, so he’s not exactly coloring inside the party lines.

But perhaps the most surprising thing is that some South Carolina Republicans are not exactly marching in lock-step with the rest of the party. In fact, a couple of them are practically raining on the inaugural parade.

Congressman Mark Sanford is pushing Trump to release his tax returns, and has even introduced legislation to require all future presidential candidates to do so.

Sen. Tim Scott got called a racist by some local dunderheads on social media over the weekend for daring to gently defend civil rights icon John Lewis from a Trump Tweetstorm.


And Sen. Lindsey Graham, well, what hasn’t he done? He’s been down on the incoming administration’s stance on everything from waterboarding to boogie boarding with Russia.

So why are these guys not singing every verse of the conservative “Kumbaya” with their colleagues? Maybe it’s tradition – as you know, South Carolina has a long history of being contrary.

Or it could be that some of our guys are actually showing a little spine.

Pure democracy

It would be easy for South Carolina politicians to quietly fall in line.

After all, Trump won the Republican primary here and is clearly more popular in the Palmetto State than he is nationally. Some would suggest it’s good politics not to rock the good ship GOP.

But veteran political scientist Neal Thigpen says it’s not too surprising to see these guys show their independence.

“None of them backed Trump in the primary and they wound up kind of splitting up,” Thigpen says.

True. Scott endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio, Sanford finally went for Sen. Ted Cruz and Graham was for, well, himself before belatedly choosing Cruz.

Honestly, though, they are not completely at odds with the incoming administration. Sanford has largely stayed out of the fray, Graham has defended Trump’s election as legitimate and Scott backed Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general when some people thought he might not.

That doesn’t mean they can’t offer criticism, even for the home team.

Fact is, a lot of Republicans are nervous about the incoming administration. Trump has no history with the GOP and no commitment to it. And some of his advisers flat-out don’t like Republican leadership.

And on occasion, as he did earlier this week, Trump makes it clear he wants to make deals – even if it’s with Democrats. So many members of Congress are treading lightly, especially those in swing states.


But Graham, Scott and Sanford – from a safe conservative state – may have the wiggle room to play this completely straight: support the president when they agree, and speak up when they don’t.

“I don’t see any of the three being a rubber stamp for Trump,” Thigpen says.

That’s as it should be in a democracy.

Hands on the wheel

The real question here is how this independence and the occasional bursts of loyal opposition affects our Washington delegation.

It probably won’t make much difference in D.C. – Gov. Nikki Haley was as rough on Trump as Graham and she’s going to wind up in the Cabinet.

Thigpen says Scott – who sent a clear signal of his focus earlier this week with a resolution to encourage hiring minorities for senior level positions in the private sector – is probably the most popular politician in the state. He is likely immune to blowback if he maintains his measured tone.

Sanford has that all-powerful name recognition.

And Graham – well, the tea party doesn’t like him and has tried to oust him before. It’s hard to imagine they could get much madder at him. As he has shown repeatedly, Graham believes senators are elected to make decisions, not take polls on every vote.

The upside for these guys is that if the administration falters, or cozies up to the Dems, they look like heroes.

Of course, some people won’t like what these guys are doing and that’s OK. But it’s good to see them speak their minds and not simply read from the same talking points. That’s putting country ahead of party.

Frankly, we need someone to keep it between the ditches – and the Democrats are certainly in no position to steer.