Flickr user Tyler Merbler

After a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday and caused destruction, death and havoc, political leaders and observers have been quick to wonder what the fallout will be for the Republican Party. 

Once a conservative party that focused on lower taxes, free trade and big business, it buckled under President Donald Trump, whose fiery rhetoric tore apart civility, promoted extremism and divided the country. Old-time, moderate country-club Republicans got swept away by partisan Trumpites who felt the president’s words and actions as a candidate and leader reflected how they had been left out of the American dream. 

One state Republican insider wondered whether Wednesday’s mob violence would spark a civil war within the Grand Old Party.

Ard | twitter.com/kardsc

“The thought did occur to me yesterday … that we could well be on the road to major party realignment where we see more than two political parties define the landscape,” said the insider, who asked not to be identified. “More than two major parties, forcing leaders to form governing coalitions, might not be a bad thing for us, if it re-focuses politicians on delivering results, rather than getting re-elected.”

Soul-searching for the national party likely will carry the day at the national level, although observers will be watching to see what Trump does with the millions of dollars he raised after the November election with false claims of a rigged election. Some say he may form a new conservative media network. Others wonder whether he’ll be a continuing thorn in the side of President-elect Joe Biden in an attempt to remain relevant to run in 2024.

At about the time the mob was storming the Capitol Wednesday, former GOP Lt. Gov. Ken Ard of Florence, who hosts a radio talk show in his hometown, answered an earlier  inquiry from Statehouse Report, City Paper’s sister publication. He remarked on the passions of Trump supporters.

“I’ve never seen this sort of intensity within a group of voters. They will eventually punish anyone they feel betrayed Trump,” Ard said, adding the national GOP could suffer because of that conundrum.

“The million-dollar question is where do these people go now? Home, stay involved, madder than hell? I don’t have a clue. They aren’t Republican voters, but rather Trump voters.”

Hours after the mob violence, Ard posted a message on Facebook about how heartbroken he was about the violence. But he added:

“You had to see this coming. We are a nation deeply divided and in a very dangerous place. Half of our country doesn’t care much at all for the other half. And vice versa. Today was not simply about ‘stop the steal’ and the 2020 election. But rather a complicated manifestation of years and years of many Americans and their growing lack of faith and trust in the authoritative entities and people in power. Those who perpetrated violence and disrespect today aren’t the only ones who need to do some serious soul-searching tonight.”

Business as usual in South Carolina

Retired Francis Marion University Professor Neal Thigpen, a lifelong moderate Republican stalwart, appears on Ard’s show about every Friday to discuss politics.

He believes Trumpism is so ingrained in South Carolina — five members of Congress from the state voted against certifying Biden’s election — that the state Republican Party won’t change much in the years ahead.

Moderates, he said, don’t have the numbers to reshape the party. So in South Carolina, it will be business as usual as politicians take cues from the right wing of the party to craft policies at the state level.

“I don’t see any movement [among GOP moderates] here in South Carolina,” Thigpen said. “There just aren’t enough of us to wrest back control of the party. … I don’t think the more moderate old-time Republicans like me … have got much chance to change things in South Carolina with respect to the party and its direction.”

Part of the reason is found in South Carolina’s history of independence — of not liking to be told what to do.  It took decades, he said, for the General Assembly to switch from Democratic to Republican control to catch up to how voters turned more conservative. And it will take a long time for it to swing the other way, he added. 

“When South Carolinians get behind one party or the other, they tend to stick with it until something really dramatic happens,” said Thigpen, 81.

“This bunch today in South Carolina are in lockstep [with Trump]. They don’t look left and right or look at issues. They’re dug in and are going to stay dug in until something comes along to make them switch … and that’s not going to happen in my lifetime.”

Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.