Donald Trump on Tuesday will have his first real shot at taking revenge on one of the House Republicans known as the “impeachment 10.”
While some of the members who voted to impeach the then-President in January 2021 have chosen to retire or have primaries later in the summer, Republican Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina will face a competitive GOP primary with a Trump-endorsed challenger. (In a district next door, another Republican House member who has crossed Trump, Rep. Nancy Mace, has her own Trump-backed opponent.)
Trump has been committed to ousting Rice and even held one of his campaign-style rallies here in Florence in March to help state Rep. Russell Fry, the 37-year-old Republican he’s chosen to boost in the crowded field.
While both campaigns admit it’s possible no candidate gets 50% of the vote and the top two will go to a runoff in two weeks, the results will indicate the strength of Trump’s influence in the deep-red 7th District.
On Monday, during a final campaign event here, the second-largest population center in the district, Fry served fried rice to supporters as a play on the leading candidates’ names.
“Who’s ready to fry some rice tomorrow?” Fry punned to cheers.
Rice’s vote to impeach Trump — which came after the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters — has remained a central issue in the primary, and Fry has worked to remind Republican voters of what many view as a betrayal of Trump. Calling himself a “committed, America First conservative,” Fry said Rice has lost touch with his voters.
“He has forgotten who sent him to Washington and where he came from,” Fry said.
But Rice has not run away from his vote.
“Obviously I do stand by my impeachment vote,” Rice told AWN. “I don’t think it was a brave decision. I thought it was the right decision. It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
Asked whether he feared it would cost him his election in the primary on Tuesday, he replied: “I don’t think it will cost me my election, but if doing the right thing costs me my election, then I’ll wear it like a badge.”
At a campaign stop Monday near Pawley’s Island, just south of his hometown Myrtle Beach, the 64-year-old congressman held forth about gas prices, inflation and the elephant in the room: impeachment.
One man thanked him for what he called a brave vote.
Voters speak out
While Trump has a strong following in South Carolina, a state he easily carried twice, conversations with voters revealed similar sentiments found across a string of primary contests last month, where Trump supporters were more than happy to ignore his endorsements and make their own decisions.
“He misspeaks a lot,” said John McAuley, a Republican from Summerville. “I like him. I think he was a good president, but I don’t agree with him coming in and trying to force this election because he didn’t like what Nancy did.”
Margaret Emmans, a Republican who came to see Mace and Haley on Sunday, did not mince words.
“I would not follow his lead,” Emmans said of the former President’s endorsement of Arrington. “I don’t know that it will have any effect on the race. I’m a Trump supporter and I’m also a big — very big — Nancy Mace supporter.”
Joe Craft, a longtime Republican voter who lives near Charleston, praised Mace for having “a voting record perfect for conservatives.” He said he believes she did the right thing voting to certify the election.
“It’s more about the candidate who will put the country first,” Craft said, “rather than a relationship with President Trump.”
And Cindy Hill, in Bluffton, was even more blunt.
“We need better Republicans to stand up to Trump,” she said.
Rice said he believed the outcome of his primary race in the 7th District would offer a signal of the direction of the Republican Party.
“I think Donald Trump is the past and we need to move on,” Rice said, speaking aloud the words that many Republicans only say in private. “I think he was a very consequential president. He got a lot of good things done, he lifted a lot of people, but I think he’s the past. We need to move on to elect somebody else. The next president, I believe, needs to be somebody who will pull America together rather than ripping it apart.”
But plenty of Republican voters in South Carolina not only love what Trump did as president, but see elected officials who oppose him as part of the problem. Ken Ard, the former Republican lieutenant governor who is from Florence County, expressed the view at Fry’s Monday event.
“We have disagreements amongst Republicans,” Ard said. “But there’s a movement afoot in this party called America First. I’ve not sold my soul to Donald Trump. I’ve sold my political soul to America First. I believe it with every fiber of my being. And those son of a guns who tried to run Donald Trump out of town from the day he got there, Tom Rice voted with them as Donald Trump was leaving. That’s a bridge too far for me.”
Mary Foxworth, a voter from Florence who says she’s supporting Fry, put it more succinctly.
“We just want someone who will support Trump,” she said.