As some predicted, the election of Dick Harpootlian to lead the South Carolina Democratic Party has consequences for Republicans. The troubles faced by Ken Ard won't likely be the last, as Harpootlian was known for believing in the value of strong and aggressive opposition research.
When he served as SCDP Chair in the mid and late 1990s, his aggressive approaches caught Republicans napping and allowed the Democrats some breathing room. Say what you want about the ethics of what he does, but it's obvious he can land the kind of punishing political blows few Democrats are able, or willing, to do.
While ethical lapses by high-profile Republicans can certainly expect to receive close attention by Harpootlian, Republicans should also be aware that they'll be held accountable for getting things done. The childish temper-tantrums of the Sanford days, should they continue, will likely become ammunition for Democratic attacks in the media and campaign trail.
Yesterday, GOP strategist Wesley Donehue, writing in the Process Story website, called on Governor Haley to set the tone for a more effective approach to communication and leadership for state Republicans:
While traveling the state, you continued your predecessor’s fight against “the good ole’ boy network.” It is a line that works, but by now you must find the line as laughable as I do. The term “network” implies communication and you know as I do that our Republican leaders do not communicate. The Democrats are right to attack our leadership. We control everything, yet we are only moving the ball forward slowly when we need fast, monumental movement. The blame can be placed on one single oddity – our Republican leaders do not talk to one another.
We couldn't agree more. Past Governors have set the tone for how things get done in Columbia. The two best recent examples were Campbell and Sanford:
- Carroll Campbell's ability to work with legislators and exercise firm leadership to handle emergencies and seal deals allowed him to push through reform legislation, build the GOP into the state's majority party and land BMW, arguably the single most important economic development deal in state history.
- Mark Sanford's poor communication skills and failure to show leadership or work with legislators let good ideas die on the grapevine, allowed factional infighting to bloody the party and allowed a lot of the state's legislative work to be carried out by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who compromised on bills to build enough support to ensure they could be veto-proof.
If Haley chooses to set a positive and constructive tone, it will be one of the best defenses Republicans can have in the face of Harpootlian's efforts to attack the state GOP's political majority as ineffective. If she doesn't, it will be much harder for Republicans to come together and show tangible results, giving a more aggressive Democratic Party leadership plenty of ammunition for next year's elections.