Senator Jim DeMint’s announcement early this morning that he will leave the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation left many loyal activists feeling a profound loss. He is an icon amongst both South Carolina’s grassroots Republicans and the Tea Party, commanding standing ovations at his every appearance. For many outside this foray, Senator DeMint’s departure leaves them simply pondering not just why, but who will be his appointed replacement.
This is South Carolina, where politics can turn on a dime, and the rule is, “There are no rules”.
Rumors are rampant; the three names most touted to fill Senator DeMint’s seat are Congressman Tim Scott, former Attorney General Henry McMaster, and Governor Nikki Haley, herself.
There are commonsense reasons for these particular individuals to be named beginning with Congressman Tim Scott, who has experienced a mercuric ascent in his congressional tenure. It is also well known that Senator DeMint and the Congressman have a special bond. Then there is former Attorney General McMaster who has for decades served South Carolina and is known as a true statesman. The General has been loyal to the Governor, immediately placing his support behind her in the primary run-off.
Conventional wisdom has it, however, that the one person central to the mechanics of replacing the Senator may be the best person to serve in this role—Governor Nikki Haley herself. There are many reasons why Governor Haley is “the top pick” but they can be boiled down to three basics: Governor Haley has national standing and persona, women in the Republican Party are significantly underrepresented in Congress and she is ripe for the national stage.
Lest we forget, it was Governor Haley who was selected prime-time speaker on the evening of Ann Romney’s address when she delivered an electrifying speech about her own background and small business experience. For the past year, we have seen Governor Haley draw national attention and campaign across the country for Governor Romney. Moreover, because South Carolina is a legislature-driven state, being the governor is often a role difficult to navigate.
While there is an historic number of women sitting in the US Senate, the Republican Party claims only four. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Senator Snowe chose not to run for reelection. Juxtapose this to the Democrat Party who will have four new senators join their ranks with thirteen sitting senators winning reelection. There will be a plethora of Democratic women to draw from to create a strong diverse ticket in 2016.
America is primed for Governor Haley and she is ready for the national stage. 2012 was a year of firsts and should Governor Haley choose to nominate herself, she would be the first Indian-American Senator. Putting diversity aside, Governor Haley is prepared. In this bare-knuckled state she has proven that she can play political hardball. Any woman, any politician really, that can emerge from the state of South Carolina and command attention in the national spotlight is an untouchable asset. She has the tenacity and the acumen to hold her own in the original Old Boys Club just as she has over the past decade in the Palmetto State.
Senator DeMint’s colleague Senator Graham has said, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” All of this makes too much sense. Remember, this is South Carolina where we should expect the unexpected.