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South Carolina’s Primary Will Show Degree of Support for Programmatic Fascism

Polls say Trump, who openly espouses programmatic fascism, may win South Carolina’s GOP primary by a two-to-one margin.

Former President Donald Trump smiles as he departs a Fox News town hall event at the Greenville Convention Center in Greenville, South Carolina, on February 20, 2024.

As South Carolina voters prepare to cast their ballots in their state’s Republican primary this Saturday, current polling suggests that Trump’s lone remaining challenger, ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, may be on track for a drubbing in her home state.

If the polls are accurate, Trump has the potential to outperform Haley by a two-to-one margin. Haley has said she’s in the race for the long haul, but, if she can’t muster more than a third of the vote in her home state, it’s hard to see a path forward for her into and beyond Super Tuesday in March.

Pretty much all of South Carolina’s political leadership, from U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, through to current Gov. Henry McMaster, are fully on board the Trump train. And Trump has — with seeming impunity — been relentlessly tearing into Haley in recent weeks; he has mocked her name, lied about her political track record and even insulted her husband, who is in the military and is currently stationed overseas, for not being with her on the campaign trail. No matter how low he goes, his followers stick with him.

GOP primary voters, still in thrall to a political cult the likes of which the United States has never before seen, have consolidated around a candidate who has been found liable for sexual assault and for defamation. Trump was ordered in May 2023 to pay $5 million to sexual assault survivor E. Jean Carroll, and in the defamation arena he has racked up nearly $90 million in fines. Yet Trump continues to command the loyalty of his base, despite having been found guilty of systematic fraud in his business practices — for which he has been fined $450 million; despite being on trial for 91 felony counts in courtrooms in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington, D.C. that have the potential to cumulatively result in hundreds of years of prison sentences; and despite being sued by the families of the Capitol Police officers who died in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

The specific policy proposals that this one-man syndicated crime show has sold his followers include military-run concentration camps for millions of undocumented immigrants; military-run expulsion flights for those migrants; and the blackmailing of democratic allies overseas to pony up more in military spending or risk having Trump give his small thumbs-up to a Russian invasion. Moreover, he has promised executive orders barring the issuing of passports and Social Security numbers to the children of undocumented immigrants — despite the constitutional guarantee to birthright citizenship. He has pledged to behave like “a dictator,” and to invoke the Insurrection Act against domestic protesters. And he has promised to unleash vengeance and “retribution” on people he deems to be political and cultural enemies.

Let no one say they didn’t know what Trump’s return to power would signify, and how deeply the reelection of such a tyrant would damage — if not entirely destroy — the U.S. democratic systems of governance. How would the world take seriously a country that reelects a man so clearly hostile to the rule of law and the culture of constitutional governance, a country that watches while an insurrectionist raises a hand and blithely swears an oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States that he has spent the better part of a decade trying to shred?

Put simply, Trumpism in 2024 is programmatic fascism, on a far more organized and thought-through scale than was the case in 2016, when Trump seemed to improvise much of his vicious agenda on the fly. That year, one could, I suppose, argue that some portion of Trump’s myriad supporters didn’t realize just how extreme his administration would be — that they were voting for him simply to stick a thumb in the eye of the establishment rather than out of any particular sympathy for Trump’s extremist politics and dishonest persona.

Given Trump’s campaign rhetoric in 2015 and 2016, that would have been far too charitable an interpretation, even then, but at least there was a degree of plausible deniability in play. This time around, there’s absolutely no ambiguity. Trump is shouting from the rooftops his intentions, and far from the biliousness of his message turning his would-be supporters off, instead they are swooning at his fanatical words. Watch a Trump rally today — say the one in which, in Conway, South Carolina, he warned Eastern European countries that he’d encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” with those countries unless they ramp up their military spending — and you’re watching a fan club every bit as insidious as the cheering supporters at a Hitler rally, captured to such powerful propagandistic effect by Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

Less than nine months out from the general election, this poisonous cult is threatening to swamp the U.S. political process. All that electorally stands in the way of the flood is one frail octogenarian president, one man whose party has the vast hubris to think that, all the polling evidence to the contrary, he, and he alone, is capable of successfully pushing back against Trump’s fascist drumbeat.

Biden may be right — and his opponent’s extremism may, in the end, alienate enough independent voters that Trump renders himself unelectable to the general public. Maybe Trump in 2024 will prove to be a darling to his base but a skunk to those who haven’t slurped the Kool-Aid. Right now, however, with the South Carolina vote looming, Trump is riding alarmingly high.

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