In the lead up to today’s primary vote, I’ve been hearing/reading the phrase “South Carolina picks the President” which is always followed by a pair of disclaimers which invalidate the statement. In our current era of constant hyperbolic predictions by the media, I wanted to point out how important those disclaimers are.
The first disclaimer is “…because whoever wins the South Carolina Republican primary wins the nomination.” This might be hard for some people to comprehend but it’s important to remember that the Republican nominee for President is not actually the President of the United States of America. To date Clinton and Obama together defeated three Republicans: Bush in ‘92, Dole in ‘96 and McCain in ‘08.
The second disclaimer is “…since 1980.” Which means that the relationship between the South Carolina Primary and the eventual nominee is a relatively new one. 32 years might seem like a long time (it’s longer than I’ve been alive for one) but that’s only eight elections. Three of those primaries/nominations went to incumbent Republican Presidents (Reagan in ‘84, Bush in ‘92, Bush Jr in ‘04) and one was to the incumbent VP moving up (Bush in ‘88). That leaves four other primaries/nominations were there was some suspense: Reagan in ‘80, Dole in ‘96, Bush Jr in ‘00 and McCain in ‘08.
South Carolina shouldn’t be bragging about 32 years of presidential accuracy when they really mean 8 of 8 and more accurately 4 of 4 or 5 of 5. In that same period though the state has given all eight of its electoral college votes to the republican nominee, though the Southern Democrats have made some close races (Carter in ‘80 and Clinton in ‘92 and ‘96).
Most importantly there is a third disclaimer that no one will say out loud: “South Carolina isn’t the deciding factor in the nominations.” It’s only the third state in the archaic and undemocratic primary system and with many more states to vote before the national convention. The people of South Carolina’s primary votes have lined up with the last eight nominees but that’s no reason to think that will happen a ninth consecutive time or a tenth or so on.
Thankfully South Carolina is not America. It’s just a small part of it.