South Carolina state Sen. Jake Knotts made national headlines this month when he said in an interview: “We already got one raghead in the White House; we don’t need a raghead in the governor’s mansion.” Knotts was referring to President Obama, who the state senator obviously believes is a Muslim, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent.

That Knotts, a mealy mouthed moron who looks like Boss Hogg, would criticize anyone’s ethnicity or appearance is amusing. That Knotts and so many other S.C. Republicans would attack Haley as viciously as they have tells you all you need to know about politics in the Palmetto State — or the state of politics in general.

The last time Knotts made national headlines, he was grinning ear-to-ear on CNN, Fox News, and other outlets over Gov. Mark Sanford’s admission that he had committed adultery. Knotts was also one of the first to call for the governor’s resignation, and, like most South Carolina Republicans, he had long been at war with Sanford, whose pesky habit of demanding government accountability and fiscal responsibility had ticked off a GOP-dominated state legislature accustomed to being as unaccountable and as irresponsible as they pleased.

Knotts and the GOP legislature have also had the same sort of antipathy toward Haley, who is widely seen as the handpicked successor to Sanford. She has caused as much friction as Sanford since the day she stepped foot in the Statehouse. Last year, Haley entered the governor’s race with the least recognizable name and the least amount of money. Not surprisingly, she was last in the polls.

Haley has not only been attacked by Knotts, but more famously by two prominent Palmetto State politicos who claimed to have had sexual affairs with the married mother of two, something she has emphatically denied and for which her accusers have yet to offer any solid proof. Despite hell, high water, and haters galore, Haley came in first in the June 8 GOP gubernatorial primary with a shocking 49 percent.

The political upheaval occurring in S.C. at the moment is a microcosm of the disenchantment with the status quo nationwide, where the old Republican guard is shocked to learn that voters are finally beginning to take true conservative rhetoric seriously. Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in Florida basically forced Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP in that Senate race. That long-serving U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah has always been considered a “conservative Republican” was not enough to save him from a voting base that no longer considered him conservative enough and effectively ended his political career in May. Two weeks later in Kentucky, Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Dick Cheney were singing the “conservative” praises of Senate candidate Trey Grayson, who was trounced in that state’s Republican primaries by a newcomer further to his Right: Rand Paul, son of libertarian godfather Ron and the Tea Party’s main man.

In the past, the average Republican politician would simply call himself “conservative,” try to say the right things about guns and gays, and skate through elections, after which he would go on to become as fiscally liberal as any Democrat. This is certainly true of the majority of Republicans in Washington and also the majority of Republicans in South Carolina state government.

During a Tax Day Tea Party rally in Charleston in 2009, the only two prominent Republican politicians welcome at the event were Sanford and fiscal hawk Sen. Jim DeMint. Haley’s gubernatorial opponent in the upcoming runoff, Congressman Gresham Barrett, attempted to attend a Tea Party in Greenville that same day and was booed off stage. Like Sanford and DeMint, Haley has been embraced by the Tea Party. What this tells us is that whether by taking the temperature of the Tea Party or gauging the election results for candidates like Bennett, Paul, and now Haley, rank-and-file GOP voters are beginning to distinguish between real conservatives and conventional Republicans who use such language to pacify voters.

Haley is a prime example of the new, more genuine crop of grassroots conservative candidates. And in trying to cut through the BS, she has found even more of it lobbed her way by her own party — and she still keeps coming out on top. The Republican establishment, whether at the national or state level, has never taken conservatism seriously. Now that so many grassroots candidates and voters are, the old guard is desperate to play catch up. Too late.

It’s time to mow down the old guard and let conservatism, finally, take root.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

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