Daily Beast Congressional Reporter Sam Brodey exposes ’A Whole Bunch of Crazy’: Inside the South Carolina GOP’s MAGA Coup. Local Tea Party leader Pressley Stutts said Trump’s instructions to the faithful were clear: “‘Go purge, get rid of the RINOs in the Republican Party.’ So we took him seriously.”
Following is the opening part of Brodey’s report.
When Lenna Smith arrived at her precinct’s annual Republican Party organizing meeting last month, she didn’t expect to be greeted by a dozen strangers.
Smith has been a fixture in GOP politics in Greenville, South Carolina, for 30 years. As a prominent anti-abortion activist, she has in her rolodex nearly everyone notable or influential in conservative circles in the state’s most populous county. She is on a first-name basis with past governors.
So, when Smith walked into a church function room for her precinct meeting on March 22 and saw people who’d never participated in local GOP politics, she was a little unnerved. As precinct president, it was Smith’s job to run the meeting, and she simply chalked up the new faces as “neighbors I’ve never met.”
But what happened next was totally out of her control. When it came time to elect the precinct’s president for the coming year, one of the newcomers nominated a fellow newcomer, but not a single person nominated Smith. Stunned, she had to nominate herself. “That was a little disheartening,” she said.
When it came time to vote, the outcome was a foregone conclusion: Smith had lost the president position she’d held for years. For the vote on the next most senior office, the same thing happened, and then the next, until there were no more offices left. Smith had been totally shut out.
“I came home, and told my husband, I was just booted out,” Smith told The Daily Beast. “Do these people see me as what I’m not?” she recalled wondering. “Did I offend them?”
What happened in Smith’s precinct was no one-off oddity; that night, longtime party activists were similarly ejected from their positions at meetings across Greenville County after hundreds of new faces showed up, seemingly out of the woodwork. The GOP loyalists did not know them, but the newcomers seemed to know the process, and they took advantage of it to jettison longtime officials.
Smith, and others, seemed to offend simply by having a whiff of experience in local politics, a black mark that was linked to the worst possible offense to the GOP base: not doing enough to support Donald Trump in the wake of the 2020 election.
Since Trump’s defeat and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the MAGA faithful around the country have been restless. State-level activists have led the charge nationally in loudly criticizing and plotting against any Republican perceived to be an enemy of the Trump movement, from members of Congress who voted to impeach the ex-president to local officials seen as being weak or soft when it counted.
The phenomenon is not unique to this pocket of South Carolina, but the fight unspooling here is a powerful microcosm of the dynamics in a national tug-of-war over the direction of the Republican Party after Trump’s presidency.
“A behind-the-scenes battle is happening,” said a Republican operative in the state, “between establishment forces, such as they are in the current GOP, and the far-right, QAnon-believing Trump supporters who want to take over this county party.”
“It’s frustrating to think the party may be turned over to people who have different goals from what we’ve had for years. Their goal is to replace us all. They may succeed. ” — Suzette Jordan, longtime South Carolina GOP activist
See Brodey’s report for more, many more, instances of GOP warfare that seems certain to result in MAGA victories.