COMMENTARY | “Another such victory and I am undone.” Those words from a Thomas Nast cartoon that appeared in Harper’s Weekly on March 24, 1877 showed a bruised and battered Republican elephant with a laurel wreath, sitting next to a gravestone for a Democratic tiger.
The cartoon is meant to depict the narrow, bloody victory won by Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in an arrangement so corrupt it signaled the beginning of the end of the GOP post-Civil War domination. A similar development for the GOP may be brewing in the controversial South Carolina congressional race.
Polls show GOP candidate Mark Sanford climbed back into a statistical dead heat with Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch for the South Carolina special election in the state’s first district. So why does a possible victory feel a horrible defeat for the Republican Party?
We already know that Republicans in the region lost their mind when they crowned scandal-tarred ex-Congressman and ex-Governor Mark Sanford not once (making him the initial front-runner) but twice (giving him the runoff).
As Sanford showed his true colors by sneaking around his ex-wife’s house and having a debate with a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi (as well as giving us a history lesson setting the Battle of the Alamo during the Civil War), the GOP started showing some sanity by pulling funding for Sanford, content to let Colbert-Busch have her 15 minutes of fame, nominate a saner candidate like Paul Thurmond of Strom Thurmond’s family and fame, then knock her out in 2014, adding her name to the Democratic incumbents who would be beaten.
But someone decided that Sanford had to win. The only way they could do it was to sell their soul, with a push poll implying she had an abortion, did jail time, and ran up a charge account. I’m surprised they didn’t imply she was gay and had an illegitimate child.
One has to wonder whether the special election in South Carolina was worth selling their soul. It could be actually worse if the party wins. Their social conservative agenda is gone with a candidate that made a mockery of marriage. Their outreach toward women is going to be hurt by this push poll.
History doesn’t bode well for such pyrrhic victories (named for an army from Epirus that lost too many casualties in winning a battle that the victors couldn’t take advantage of their success). After 1876, the GOP managed one more squeaker of a race in 1880, eventually losing to Grover Cleveland, who won three straight popular vote contests. Gone were the blowout GOP triumphs in 1864, 1868 and 1872. Gone may be a number of Republican chances in 2014, having lost their mind and sold their soul for a piece of South Carolina.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.