In this week’s dead-tree City Paper, we look at the potential for South Carolina’s Republican leaders (Katon Dawson, Sen. Jim DeMint, Gov. Mark Sanford) to lead the party out of the wilderness — and how that sounds like a really, really bad idea.

College of Charleston political science professor Bill Moore has his doubts.

“If the southern conservatives win the battle, they may end up losing the war,” he says. “South Carolina’s brand of conservatism plays well in small communities in the South, but I don’t think it would play well nationally.”

What comes to mind first when imagining a President Sanford or a Vice President DeMint are the uncomfortable lessons that South Carolina can impart on the rest of the nation. First, Republicans without strong opposition turn on themselves. Sanford has railed against legislative spending, and the General Assembly has criticized Sanford’s tendency to shirk cooperation or compromise. And the one issue they can all agree on — lower taxes — has put state spending on the ropes as the sales taxes that state coffers rely on have dried up.

“One of the biggest reasons we’re in the situation we’re in is because we’ve cut taxes so much,” Moore says.

A reader suggested that we were calling for a single-party system. That’s not our intent. What we’re suggesting is that the Republican Party has two arms. One is broken (far right) and the other is only sore (center right). We’re saying the party shouldn’t try to use the broken one to get things done.

If the future of the party can’t be driven by South Carolina leaders, it may take people like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He told his fellow Republican governors last week that the GOP needs to look at issues like health care and alternative energy to attract minority and middle class voters.

“We have a large deficit with women, Hispanics, African Americans — people with modest financial circumstances. That is not a formula for a majority,” he said.

Which philosophical direction the national party takes — either by emulating or rejecting the South — could determine the fate of the party in 2010 and 2012. Considering the shrinking successes of the Republican Party, a path that focuses on the South could lead to a national GOP convention being held in your nearest phone booth. It’s only with a hint of irony that we note there aren’t many phone booths left either.

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