You know what you and I have in common? We’ve both been screwed by political parties. And yes, even the one we usually cast votes for on election day.

Of course, it’s nothing new to get a raw deal from Columbia. It happens all the time on routine issues in the Statehouse, from education to those stupid $50 checks the state is sending all of us for our cut of the state’s lottery winnings instead of actually using it to fix problems.

So, it’s a little befuddling that some South Carolina Republican voters are surprised that the state party won’t give its voters a chance to reject President Donald Trump in a GOP primary next year. After all, these are the guys that Republicans chose to put there.

[image-1]

In most cases, voters who cast ballots in primary elections are the party’s most loyal and strident voters. (That’s why you often hear about candidates having to tone down rhetoric in the general election after having to win over voters looking for ideological purity). So you can imagine that the subset of people who would have voted in a primary and would have entertained the possibility of voting against Trump is even smaller.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that the political class running establishment American political parties is given plenty of latitude to run the parties with an eye on self-preservation.

The degree to which establishment Democrats pushed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in 2016 in the face of organic competition from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is well-worn territory. But it should not have been a surprise, with Clinton’s permanent campaign in place since the early 2000s, she was up next. Once again, these are the people that Democrats chose to put there.

Right?

Well, kind of. For both Democrats and Republicans in this wonderful two-choice system we’ve set up for ourselves, problems bubble up when power goes unchecked.

Republicans have held power for so long in S.C., drawing district lines so precisely, that many elections are not competitive. If there’s a challenger at all, party primaries in solid one-party districts function as de facto general elections, with two candidates tossing red meat to ravenous primary voters, leading to some primary run-off elections decided by just a few hundred total voters.

In 2018, Democrats and Republicans saw fewer unopposed re-election bids in S.C. House districts than in 2014, but both parties also saw more contests with only a party primary and no general election, according to an analysis by Statehouse Report. In all, that came out to 62 percent of races in 2018 that were decided before the general election. If that number seems high, it was down significantly from the sleepy 2014 midterm elections, when a whopping three-quarters — 93 out of 124 — of the races were decided before November.

More citizens having a say in electing the people who represent them is a good thing for democracy in our little republic. The idea of democracy gets thrown around in politics so much that it hardly ever means anything substantive, usually just filling a few lines in a stump speech. Even S.C. Democrats threw out some blustery rhetoric after their Republican counterparts canceled the primary: A Sept. 12 SCDP email blast subject line read, “What are Republicans afraid of? Democracy.” (True, even if reductive. But more accusatory than revelatory.)

But S.C. Republicans will redraw district lines across the state in the next few years. Districts where re-election grew less secure for GOP incumbents over the past 10 years will be remapped, hoping to forestall potential demographic shifts that could tilt the balance of power — a 10-year insurance policy on one-party rule. Margins of victory for incumbents in those districts will go up, devaluing those voters’ votes. If you’re in one of those districts, and Charleston will likely have a few, I wouldn’t blame you for feeling discouraged as you decide whether to vote in the 2026 midterms.

We’re too late if we wait to mourn democracy after South Carolina Republicans cancel a primary. In many S.C. districts, it’s been dead for a long for a long time.

After all, these are the guys we elected.