There are a couple of events in South Carolina this weekend. One is The Battle of Aiken, a weekend long reenactment of one of the last battles of the Civil War. The other event, which could be called the Battle For Aiken, is the Republican primary. In anticipation of the primary, the residents of South Carolina have been barraged with all sorts of political nonsense. I’ve come home from running errands to find several messages from various candidates, PACs and the like. Every other ad on TV is promoting the candidates – some are benign and some are downright nasty. The same goes for the calls. The last one I received, from a PAC, wanted me to know what at liar and cheat Ted Cruz is. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who that group supports.
All of the contenders were crossing the State, with increasing fervor, so I decided to attend a few events. I probably could have spent most of the day and well into the night going from one to another, but the three I did go to were more than enough.
The week began with a Ted Cruz rally, held at the Aiken campus of the University of South Carolina. The last time I’d been at the Convocation Center was to man a booth for the Equine Rescue at a bull riding competition. A fitting touch of irony, don’t you think? I arrived early, around 9:30AM for the 11AM event. There were plenty of seats available at that hour and I found one on the floor, about ten rows from the makeshift stage. I struck up a conversation with a young couple who had moved from Texas to Augusta, Georgia as he was in the military. They had already decided that Cruz was their guy and were more than happy to tell me how they admired Cruz’s principles.
To my right was an older woman, who was living in Aiken after retiring here from Ohio. She was not quite as sold as the young couple when it came to Cruz and wasn’t sure who she was voting for on Saturday. Most of the people I chatted with were of the same mindset as I am, though – anybody but Trump. That struck me as odd given all of the poll numbers, but, then again, we were at a Cruz rally. I probably should note that there was a Trump bus parked outside and volunteers were in the lobby, handing out stickers, brochures and buttons to anyone who wanted them.
The time had finally come for the rally to start and, after we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, author and radio host Glenn Beck was introduced. Now, Glenn is an interesting guy. He’s a recovering alcoholic and gives credit to God for the steps he’s made in his successful battle with alcohol. He gave a rambling talk about that and then related a story about George Washington. It involved a talk our first president had with God and how God told him to get back on his horse and continue to fight the good fight. The crowd loved it and a smattering of amens could be heard.
Beck then introduced Senator Cruz to cheers, sign waving and a standing ovation. During Beck’s introduction, he spoke about Cruz’s childhood where the future senator grew up with a Bible and a copy of the Constitution were always on the kitchen table. The crowd of supporters seemed to be particularly excited about this. Cruz began by letting us know what he planned to do on his first day in office. He’s going to be really busy and might have to skip a couple of inaugural balls if he wants to make good on it all. He’s going to get rid of Obamacare, undo every illegal and unlawful executive action taken by President Obama, restore religious liberty, have the Department of Justice investigate Planned Parenthood for illegalities, rip the Iran deal to shreds and move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Like I said, it’s going to be a long day.
As his appearance came just a couple of days after Justice Scalia’s passing, Senator Cruz had a few things to say about his replacement. Just as we’ve heard from most of the GOP, he intends to block any appointment attempts by President Obama. He told the crowd that another progressive justice will leave us with abortion on demand, the destruction of the 2nd Amendment and the end to our religious freedoms. I kind of liked his idea to abolish the IRS and go with a flat tax. Honestly, who really likes the IRS?
I should note that I’ve been to a lot of political events over the course of my life. I’m a political junkie and going to breakfasts, dinners, fund-raisers, rallies and caucuses are my idea of good times. Having said that though, I’ve never seen anything quite like this rally for Ted Cruz. It was part political rally and part revival meeting. There were as many quotes from scripture as there was speechifying about what a Cruz administration would look like. I found myself wondering how it would be received up North and decided it wouldn’t because it wouldn’t happen. Cruz would change the rhetoric and the tone because he would be addressing a very different demographic. In South Carolina, the evangelical vote is crucial but carries very little weight in much bluer States.
The next event I attended was a forum with Jeb Bush and Ben Carson. While the other two events only required a registration where you printed out a ticket, those who wanted to see the candidates Tuesday night had to buy tickets. I managed to wrangle VIP seating because I hate to pay to see politicians. The doors were to open at 5:30PM and I arrived right around then. Unlike the day before, we had to walk through metal detectors, which were manned by the TSA and a few Secret Service men in jumpsuits and safety vests. I can’t explain why, although some of us wondered if President Bush was making a surprise appearance as he’d been campaigning for his brother most of the day. Same venue, much different atmosphere.
Yes, Trump’s bus and volunteers were there, too.
I found myself having a conversation with a lovely couple from New Jersey, and I felt much more comfortable having spoken with them. Even though I’ve lived here for a while now, it’s always nice to come across some fellow Northerners.
This evening began with a comedian, who told some not so funny jokes targeting Democrats. It was expected, I guess. We then heard from Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman Joe Wilson. Yes, that Joe Wilson, the one who displayed some very un-Southern bad manners during a State of the Union address. After they spoke, Governor Bush was introduced and given time for a few words of his own. He’s tall – really tall, and he was sporting his new contact lenses. Apparently, someone on his staff didn’t think his glasses sent the right message. He was wearing a pullover sweater and jeans. From there, Bush was asked a series of questions from Congressman Wilson, State Attorney General Wilson and Republican State Chairman, Matt Moore. They covered a few issues, local and national, including eminent domain.
The Governor left the podium and it was time to introduce retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Dr. Carson wore a suit, and I was happy to see that his tie was neither red or blue, but a wildly colorful paisley. He was given the same amount of time for his own comments, and was actually a bit funny at times as he ruminated about some of the absurdities of political campaigns. Without mentioning him by name, Carson took a jab at Trump by saying that being loud doesn’t make you right. All of us liked that. The same panel then asked him the same questions they asked Jeb Bush, and I really didn’t see a big difference in their respective responses. Once the questions ended, a very nice thing happened. Dr. Carson introduced his wife of 40 years, Candy. It seems that she makes a brief appearance at each of his events and comes on stage to say one thing. “I’m Candy Carson and I approve this message.” Nice, right?
My third and last event, at least for me, was at the Odell Weeks Activity Center in downtown Aiken, and was a Town Hall meeting with Senator Marco Rubio. Kismet must have been on my side, because the very same couple from New Jersey that I’d met the night before were in line in front of me. We entered the gymnasium at the center and found seats on a set of bleachers. Sentaor Rubio’s appearance was held up for a bit because the crowd was larger than expected and upset the Fire Marshall. By the way, all three events were packed.
The Junior U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott, was chosen to introduce Senator Rubio and he did it very well – with great humor and respect. The crowd had been worked into a small frenzy by people I can only describe as campaign cheerleaders. A woman had yelled “Marco” and the crowd responded with “Rubio” (No,not Polo). Marco Rubio took the stage to cheers and applause from an audience seated around the stage. He spoke, without notes, for well over an hour. He told the story of his immigrant family who knew poverty, but raised their children to do and be more. Whatever your politics may be, his story is the one we like to call the American Dream. He talked about the plight of the veterans, the burden of student loans and the disparity in our tax laws. I found him charming, intelligent and as sincere as a politician can be. He’s also kind of cute. I just thought you should know that.
When I left the gym, I sat in my car for a few minutes to let the traffic clear out. I turned on the news and heard that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had just endorsed Senator Rubio. I think I also heard Jeb Bush utter an expletive and a long, sad sigh.
I never got the opportunity to see Governor Kasich and I didn’t care to see Donald Trump. I think the 9 1/2 hours I spent sitting in folding chairs and bleachers were worth it. I have to vote on Saturday and I’m really hoping that my decision will be the right one. That’s really all any of us can do.
#South Carolina #BenCarson #JebBush #MarcoRubio #DonaldTrump #TedCruz