Nancy Mace’s Magical Moderate Makeover Tour

The tear gas had barely dissipated in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, the glass shattered by the MAGA mobs hardly swept up, before the Nancy Mace Rehabilitation Tour began in earnest. If you were watching closely, you saw the Palmetto State’s freshman GOP striver morph from MAGA-backing reactionary to courageous plain-dealer in real time. It was quite the magic trick.

In the weeks following the deadly, GOP-invited, Trump-incited, QAnon-requited siege of Washington, D.C., the newly minted South Carolina congresswoman racked up press hits with local and national outlets enthralled by this daring maverick willing to admit that coup attempts are bad and that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. So brave. 

“The American people have had enough partisan games over the last several months, certainly over the last several weeks,” Mace told The Post and Courier. (Disclosure: I worked as a part-time food reporter at the paper from August 2019-August 2020, when I was laid off due to the pandemic.) 

“We have to take a cold, hard look at ourselves and recognize that this is a real problem for our party,” she told The New York Times for a story that lauded her as one of her party’s “sharpest critics.”

Sharp criticism? Your mileage may vary. To me, it sounds more like the sort of performative straight-talkery that McCain-nostalgic boomer dreams are made of.

Infante | Provided

Mace delivered similarly self-serving soundbites to The State, MSNBC, CNN and other mainstream outlets. Axios gifted the incoming congresswoman fawning coverage of a spat amongst freshmen GOP lawmakers, holding her out to be a no-nonsense moderate “disgusted” by other members’ embrace of QAnon. On Sunday, she scored a coveted spot on Meet the Press, telling sentient goatee Chuck Todd that she “wants to be a new voice for the Republican party.”

To the casual observer, Mace simply isn’t supposed to be saying this. She ran as the Trump candidate, basked emoji-ly in his online endorsement and ran TV spots to fasten her campaign to his rumpled coattails. 

Now, we’re meant to think, “Wow, if someone so steeped in MAGA dogma is willing to break ranks, she must be ‘one of the good ones.’” Welcome her with open arms! She may not have been your candidate, but she’s ready to govern for all South Carolinians. Finally, a Palmetto Republican who’s willing to tell it like it is, right?! 

Of course not. Mace’s bold stand for truth/democracy/America is nothing more than pragmatic sleight of hand. Until the insurrection, she’d been parroting baseless GOP talking points about voter fraud and Trump’s legal challenges with the worst of them. Exactly one week after the deadly coup that supposedly appalled her, the Daniel Island lawmaker was on the House floor misappropriating Martin Luther King Jr. quotes to and giving “both sides” cover to the literal white supremacists who had so recently breached the chamber. 

And of course, Mace interrupted her “country over party” lionization tour long enough to vote against impeaching Trump. If she was actually interested in changing the GOP, rather than just cadging political goodwill from voters longing for a return to the bipartisanship of yesteryear she missed a prime opportunity to prove it.

In reality, Mace is shaping up to be your standard-issue GOP “rising star” — white, ambitious and trained at the state level in the Republican dark art of repackaging right-wing ideology in the more-palatable vernacular of “fiscal conservatism” and “family values.”

Sure, she did some “good” stuff after sliding into the South Carolina State House via special election in 2017, like a carveout for rape/incest victims in an absolutely medieval 2018 anti-abortion bill. (Caveat secured, she backed the bill, which died in committee.) 

And yes, during her House campaign, she did (sort of) break with Trump on banning offshore drilling. But this was just more political chicanery: offshore drilling is deeply unpopular in this state, even amongst the MAGA hordes. This was a riskless position that helped her deflect accusations of climate denialism and Trumpian lapdoggery. She spent the rest of her campaign touting her MAGA-lignment on virtually everything else, and did some light race-/red-baiting while she was at it. Neat! 

It’s a pattern: Mace does some bare-minimum, preservationist politicking in word while remaining ideologically right-wing in deed, and South Carolina voters and institutions trip over themselves to christen her a common-sense centrist. Now she’s doing the same song and dance on a national stage. 

So Mace may be a new voice for the Republican Party in the sense that she’s not a wrinkly white dude. But don’t be fooled by her shrewd media message. Actions speak louder than words, and Mace’s actions — both in the District of Columbia, and in the city of Columbia before it — scream her fealty to the GOP’s enduring ethical decay.

David Infante is a freelance writer who lives in Charleston. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Post and Courier, and other publications. He edits the independent drinks newsletter Fingers.

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