When news surfaced yesterday that Republican Gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton would be introducing former Trump strategist Steve Bannon at the Citadel this week, I was reminded of what I believe to be the most dangerous thing in politics today: when the sane act crazy to win elections.
This practice has been going on for decades. Richard Nixon wasn't as racist as his southern strategy. George H. W. Bush wasn't as racist as his Willie Horton ad. George W. Bush wasn't as socially conservative as his supporters. Donald Trump wouldn't know a Bible if it knocked him upside the head, though he claims its his favorite book in order to hold on to the evangelical vote.
Nikki Haley knew Sarah Palin was a dingbat when she accepted her endorsement in the gubernatorial primary of 2010. But Palin was beloved by, well, crazy people. And crazy people vote! Especially in the GOP primary. And Voila! Haley won the primary over three much more experienced candidates just by actin' a lil' crazy!
And Henry McMaster stunned political observers in the state when he endorsed Donald Trump last year before anyone else. McMaster is a congenial career politician who has always shied away from controversial politics. So when he endorsed Donald Trump, people saw it for what it was - a political calculation. McMaster wanted to run for governor in 2018 and he knew his only path was by winning over the most conservative voters in the state. And those folks were Trump voters. McMaster didn't think Trump would ever be president, but he was willing to act a little crazy to get a second look from the voters he needed.
But Catherine Templeton's capitulation to crazy may take the cake. By all accounts, Catherine Templeton is a moderate, reasonable, establishment Republican. She's intelligent, educated and she's widely respected by folks across the political spectrum. She was one of those Republicans who supported Democrat Vincent Sheheen in 2010. Heck, she even endorsed Jeb Bush!
But now she's running for governor in a contested primary. Her opponents include a sitting governor who has Donald Trump is in corner, and the most conservative state senator in South Carolina with zero room to his right on social issues. Being reasonable and respected by the establishment in a Republican primary in 2017 is kind of like having six toes - people will just look at you funny. So Templeton's strategy has turned to - you guess it - actin' crazy.
She stunned her establishment friends earlier this summer by going up to Pickens County and professing her love for the Confederacy. Of the confederate flag, she said Dylann Roof "took our symbol and turned it into hate."
Wow. Pander to racists, much?
Her strategy here was clear. Say something semi-racist and have black folks and Democrats go crazy, and then point out to your fellow Republicans how mad you made black folks and Democrats. "Am I in the club yet?" she must have asked.
Almost, Catherine. Almost.
In a new effort to earn her Masters in Pandering to Racists, she's going 'all-in' on, of all people, Steve Bannon. Last week she described the Breitbart editor and former Trump strategist as "the voice for the rest of us."
Wait, what? The voice for the rest of whom? Wealthy, white female lawyers who live in Mt. Pleasant and love Jeb Bush?
It's nothing short of cringe-worthy to watch this otherwise respectable person shed all dignity and self-respect in a quest to earn votes.
Now she's reportedly going introduce Bannon when he speaks at the Citadel this week. Dozens of progressive groups have already announced their plans to protest Bannon's visit to the state's only military college.
But for Templeton? The more the merrier. She wants as much attention and outrage on this event as possible. She wants to be the target of Democratic ire. This race is less about who can win more votes as much as it is who can offend Democrats the most.
After Bannon's visit to the Citadel, Templeton will bask in the white nationalism while somehow tying the event to the military. She'll highlight the criticism she gets from Democrats, especially African-Americans, as some sort of victory. And hopefully, just hopefully, she can convince enough voters that she is the person to carry the torch for the butthurt white people who think their country ain't as white as it should be.
What's really frustrating about this whole strategy is the fact that it will probably be successful. McMaster has his own problems and Kevin Bryant has no money.
But make no mistake, if Templeton wins the primary, she'll transform back into the establishment Republican she's always been. She won't talk about the confederate flag or the confederacy. She won't ask Steve Bannon to come campaign for her. She'll likely distance herself from Donald Trump and hope people forget about her leap into white nationalism during the primary.
But at some point, voters and the press have to hold sane politicians accountable when they execute this dishonest and detestable strategy.
Because after all, we all know Catherine Templeton isn't crazy. She's just trying to win an election.
And that's the problem.