The South Carolina GOP's "Operation Chaos"

I realize we still need to finish up business in New Hampshire before moving on, but a report out this morning indicates that there’s something afoot in South Carolina that we’ll probably want to keep an eye on. Up until now, the smart money has been on Joe Biden to score his first big win there, largely due to his strong support from Black voters in the Palmetto State. As of this week, Uncle Joe’s RCP average is more than 13 points ahead of his nearest competitor. (Bernie Sanders.)

So is that race pretty much in the bag? Perhaps not, thanks to a plan being hatched by the Republicans. They’re going to be encouraging all of the GOP voters to turn out on primary day and vote for Bernie Sanders. And it wouldn’t take all that big of a slice of the state Republican pie to flip that race over and take a sorely needed win away from the former Vice President. (Post and Courier)

A group of prominent Upstate Republicans are preparing to launch a wide-scale effort this week to encourage GOP voters across South Carolina to vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Feb. 29 Democratic primary, The Post and Courier has learned.

The Republican plan to meddle in the Democratic race, emerging just weeks before the “First in the South” primary, has two goals: Boost the candidate who the Republicans believe presents the weakest general election threat to President Donald Trump and pressure Democrats to support closing state primaries in the future.

This idea is pretty much identical to Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” idea from 2008, where he encouraged Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton and keep her in the race to sow division between her and Barack Obama. That didn’t wind up delivering too much of an effect, but it’s probably easier to manage in a single state than across the entire nation.

The only reason this could work is that South Carolina has an open primary. Nobody is required to register with any party and everyone is free to vote in whichever primary they like. The GOP has been pushing to close the state’s primary for some time now, but the Democrats have resisted the idea. State GOP leaders are obviously not blind to the panic currently setting in at the DNC over a potential Sanders nomination and view Bernie as the easiest candidate for Trump to beat in November. (I can’t say I disagree.) And since the state GOP voted to cancel their primary this year, it’s not as if Republican voters have anything else to keep them occupied.

So how realistic is this idea? A bit of basic math can paint the picture for us. In 2016, both parties held primaries. The turnout for the Democrats was roughly 370,000 while the Republicans counted double that amount at 740,000. If the Democrats turn out the same numbers and they vote at roughly the same ratio as predicted by the current polling, Biden would pull in somewhere around 113,000 votes with Bernie getting about 63,000. That’s a deficit of around 50,000. So if the GOP can convince just seven percent of their primary voters from 2016 to bother going out and voting for Sanders, they could probably hand the victory to Bernie.

If Joe Biden winds up losing South Carolina he would almost certainly end up going zero for four in the early states, and that could turn out to be a crippling blow. That’s particularly true if Bernie does as well in California on Super Tuesday as current models predict.

The other opportunity for the South Carolina GOP here is that this sort of operation could finally convince the Democrats to agree to close the primary and restrict the races to registered voters of each party. That’s a better system in any event, at least in my opinion. And not just because it would largely prevent schemes like the one under discussion here. Primaries are not actual elections to create a government. They are beauty contests to allow the parties to pick their candidates. If you’re not a participant in the party, then why should you have a say in who is picked to run?

I’ll finish this up by expressing the same dark hesitancy that I’ll wager quite a few of you are already feeling as well. Yes, I agree that Bernie Sanders would probably be a nightmare of a candidate for the Democrats and he’s probably the weakest one to field against Trump. But Donald Trump is still underwater in most polls (even though he’s doing better in the swing states) and his reelection is still far from a sure thing. If we jump on the bandwagon and help Bernie over the finish line in the primary… what if he wins in November? Then we’re stuck with him for four years, assuming his heart holds out that long. And the Republican Party would have helped make it happen. There’s some nasty food for thought for you.