The politics of spite in S.C.

By Phil Noble Contributing Columnist

August 21, 2014

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: I’m a Democrat and, as such, I hope that Democrats win elections and Republicans lose — locally, in South Carolina and nationally.

So, of course, everything in this column needs to be filtered through that lens.

Having said that, I believe that the basic thesis of this column is correct: Two South Carolina Republican candidates and their supporters are behaving spitefully and maybe, just maybe, they could be in the process of cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

The two faces are those of Sen. Lindsay Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley and the folks cutting off the noses are their “independent” challengers Thomas Ravenel and Tom Ervin.

It seems to me that both of these candidates are embarked on a selfish vendetta at best and a very expensive, self-funded ego trip at worst — one that will have the net effect of possibly helping Democrats to win.

Let’s start with Tom Ervin. I have never met the man; I’m sure he is a good and decent man who loves his wife and children, goes to church on Sunday and is kind to animals. That said, it seems that the only reason he is running is because he has some sort of vendetta against Governor Haley. He started out in the Republican primary going after Haley tooth and tong, and when he saw that was an impossible uphill climb he dropped out and is now running as an independent “Conservative Who Cares” — or at least that’s what his website says.

Though it is not too clear what he cares about other than not being Nikki Haley, his website has two dozen bullet points with all the right conservative buzzwords, but that’s about it. (It’s a real shame that public policy, position papers and what a candidate believes has been reduced to a handful of buzzwords.)

And now Thomas Ravenel, or T-Rav, as he is known to all his hip buddies and cool hangers-on who think a lot of money and a perverse reality-show fame is sufficient to qualify someone to run the country. Like Ervin, I don’t personally know Ravenel — though I think I did shake hands with him once sometime long ago. I don’t remember when or where it was — all I remember was his wide grin and shifty eyes.

Ravenel’s basic rationale for running is that Lindsay is not a foaming-at-the-mouth radical ideologue, and his greatest sin is that on occasion, he has actually had the audacity to vote for something that he thought was in the best interest of the county — even if some Democrats supported it.

There is not enough space in this column, or perhaps even on this newspaper page, to chronicle all the reasons why Ravenel has no business being a U.S. senator, or the sheer moral debauchery of his personal life, which he has chosen to parade on national television. Suffice to say, the kindest thing that most people can say about his run is “Well, it’s his money and if he wants to…”

And that is the point for both Ravenel and Ervin — it’s their money. They are spending great buckets full of cash to run against Haley and Graham essentially because they don’t like them. Neither is getting significant financial support from people who believe in him or his message, i.e. the way a campaign is supposed to work.

Moreover, neither has any realistic chance of winning. It’s quite likely that neither of them will even get 10 percent of the vote.

But they will peel some votes off of Haley and Graham and maybe, just maybe, it will be enough for either or both of their Democratic opponents, Vince Sheheen and Brad Hutto, to sneak through and win.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

The irony is that, historically, third-party or independent campaigns have been about something. They have been about candidates with big ideas or principles or some specific policy they were either for or against.

But with these guys, it seems to be all about them — fueled by their money and focused on their anger and hostility toward their opponents. Simply put, it’s spite — and that is not what politics ought to be about.

A face, a Democratic or Republican one, without a nose is an ugly sight indeed.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley.