S.C. GOP chief: Fears power Trump’s appeal; race growing nationalized

Matt Moore
Matt Moore jblake@thestate.com

S.C. Republican party chairman Matt Moore spoke to The State recently about the 2016 GOP presidential primary — from the staying power of front-runner Donald Trump to how many GOP candidates he expects still to be in the race when S.C. Republicans vote on Feb. 20.

Q. What’s different in this presidential cycle?

A. “The race is much more nationalized than ever before. Traditionally, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina make up a solid bulk of the campaigning and interest. In this cycle, national polls have been used to set debate criteria, (and) candidates are campaigning in Texas, Missouri, Ohio and other states. I think a great deal of that is due to Facebook and the power of technology. Everyone, everywhere is watching what happens. Engagement is off the charts.”

Q. Are you surprised that New York billionaire Donald Trump’s lead in the polls has lasted so long among Republicans?

A. “Generally, I’m surprised that someone near zero percent in June or July has led for the past six months. His candidacy came out of nowhere.”

Q. Why is he appealing to voters?

A. “He is speaking to people’s fears and anger. In many cases, that anger is justified with a seemingly broken Washington, D.C., that just refuses to solve the country’s biggest challenges.”

Donald Trump spoke at the TD Convention Center in Greenville, SC on August 27, 2015. Supporters share their views on what makes him the best candidate for president. (Gerry Melendez / The State)

Q. Do you think Trump will temper his message after criticism by you, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republican party leaders about his proposed ban on Muslim travelers?

A. “It’s not the party leaders’ job to temper Donald Trump’s message. The point of our speaking out was to say, ‘This is not the American way,’ and, in fact, it’s not helpful. Every candidate is responsible for the words that come out of their mouths and, ultimately, the voters have final say. But some things go beyond political parties, and I believe this is one of them. We have to defend American values and the Constitution.”

Q. Are you surprised to have so many GOP presidential candidates (14 remained active at the time of this interview, although U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, dropped out days later)?

A. “The number of candidates on the Republican side is unprecedented. But it’s not necessarily bad news. The Democrats had 17 candidates in 1976, and they won the White House. In the end, it could end up being a good thing.”

A. Why is that a good thing?

A. “Our candidates will have spent over a year defending their record and sharpening their messages and that’s very helpful in the general election.”

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Q. How many GOP candidates do you think will remain in the race by Feb. 20?

A. “I expect no less than six to seven candidates to be active in South Carolina by Feb. 20. Based on polling, it looks like a large number of candidates will be active in the 11 days following New Hampshire.”