In many ways, South Carolina has the future of the Republican Party in its’ hands. Up until now, the Republican primaries have only flirted with defining what the Republican Party wants. Independents in New Hampshire helped push McCain to victory in a small state with little Republican presence. Michigan rescued Romney and was the most populace stage for a Republican primary yet. However, even that win comes with an asterisk in a largely Democrat state with a fair share of activists who were urged to muddle with the Republican primary by fringe left leaders. But his margin of victory should be enough to validate the win. Iowa has probably been the truest test so far but even there the state is trending Democrat.
The real indication of who Republicans think should be the next president will be in South Carolina. South Carolina is a fairly populace state with a long history as an indicator of how the political will of a good portion of the nation will shape up. South Carolina is a red state with an overwhelmingly Republican government. One of the original thirteen colonies, it chose to succeed from Britain. Later it would be the first state in the Union to secede from the United States and form the Confederacy.
The reasons behind that secession were many but the opposing principles were Federalism versus democratic rule. Robert Barnwell Rhett gave voice to this clash in 1861 with South Carolina’s call for secession.
He wrote “The Government of the United States is no longer the government of a confederate republic, but of a consolidated democracy. It is no longer a free government, but a despotism.”
Of note in his address is that the primary wedge issue was slavery. Some historical revisionists, in an attempt to rescue the image of Southern secessionists have tried to claim slavery was an ancillary issue of the day. This document makes quite clear that slavery was the issue even though political dissension was the justification for secession. But to the point, the question of federalism vs. democratic rule may not resonate with much of the country, but it does in the Midwest and the South at an almost instinctual level.
In those less populace states, under a purely democratic rule, their fates would be truly in the hands of remote urban population centers. A federalist government however, compensates for population differences (and thus cultural differences) by limiting the role of the federal government to those things defined in the U.S Constitution.
Not many of the Republicans vying for the nomination understand that the language of the red states is the language of federalism. Governor Huckabee seems willing to throw it out the window whenever it conflicts with his religious inclinations as his weakness on illegal immigration shows. Similarly, John McCain abandons the concept of federalism replacing it with his own moral code, again as demonstrated by his position on amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The fact is that sometimes federalism hurts. Nobody wants to be the bad guy who tells millions of people who want a better life to hit the road. However, the law must trump emotions. And we must trust that the weaknesses of federalism will be compensated in other ways.
For example, slavery itself, under a pure federalist system, may have never been brought down. However, other forces, such as market capitalism would have countered the weaknesses of federalism. In the example of slavery, if the federal government had not fought the secessionist states to free the slaves, it is arguable that economic boycotts and political pressure would have eventually achieved the same ends.
In the same way, we can find other ways to achieve the goal of a better future for our neighbors to the south of the border than to allow them to scramble over our gates. As Thompson stated “we get to control” who comes in the gates.
Whereas it is demonstrated that the practice of federalism must be tempered with morality, the question becomes whose morality? Why, the morality of the person seeking the highest office, of course. So especially in a federalist system, the question of morality becomes essential whether it be too much, too little, or too foreign.
A candidate who cares more about satisfying a group of people who have repeatedly flaunted the laws of this country in their own self interest, and then demand the protection of that law to legitimize their illegal acts, does not mesh with a federalist mindset. To move away from law and order is to weaken federalism. Senator McCain’s weakness on immigration is a weakness of federalism.
Fred Thompson does speak the language of federalism. He makes no bones about the fact that his message is a federalist one and not a populist one. He makes it clear that sometimes federalism hurts. He and Romney alone make it clear that they hear the clamoring in this nation to control our borders and will not supplant federalism with “good works” of a Christian flavor.
Fred Thompson notes that the greatness of our federalist government is that it “preserves to the people” the power to do such good works but that these works should not be demanded by the government upon the people. That is a position that should satisfy all Republicans, allowing the evangelical to comply with the tenants of their faith, but limits the influence over the government by religion.
A careful observer might note that while every other candidate for president has provided a string of bailout promises to some group or another, Senator Thompson has limited his political speech to addressing the protection of the people from a government bent on unlimited domestic power and growth, seemingly no matter which party is in power. In that, he is the true successor to the Reagan mantle. Reagan spoke to all Americans and not just special interests or government bureaucrats.
Local reporting from South Carolina predominately reports a Thompson surge. While many candidates claim the Reagan mantle, only Thompson adheres to the Reagan spirit. Look for South Carolina, the first Republican testing ground, to put Thompson as the Republican front-runner. His federalist positions are the key to victory among main stream conservatives.
Ray Robison is the coauthor of Both In One Trench: Saddam's Secret Terror Documents