CHARLESTON’S NEW MAYOR
A city best known for its seafood, tourist culture, and southern charm has elected its first Republican mayor since 1877.
By a margin of under 600 votes, former South Carolina State Rep. William Cogswell, a Republican, defeated Democrat incumbent Mayor John Tecklenburg to take the helm of one of the South’s most prominent cities.
Charleston, dubbed “the Holy City” for the many church spires that dot its skyline, is a place where history is everywhere: buildings dating to the 17th and 18th centuries are found across the city. The scars of the American Revolution and the American Civil War are still ubiquitous.
And since 1877, immediately following the end of the Reconstruction-Era military occupation of the South, the city’s been run by Democrats.
However, Charleston’s politics fail to fall neatly into Republican and Democrat labels. Charlestonians are a deeply centrist-minded people.
In 2020, Charleston voted by nearly 12 points for President Joe Biden. In the same race, they elected sent Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) to Congress over Democrat incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.)
Because of their purple bent, the mayoral race for Charlestonians was never going to be about just a candidate’s party affiliation.
All of Charleston’s municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, with candidates not allowed to declare party affiliation.
Nevertheless, everyone knew that this was a race between a Republican and a Democrat: Cogswell was a State House Republican, while Tecklenburg was a power player in South Carolina Democratic politics.
Ultimately, locals said, the race came down largely to local issues, but was also more colored by national partisan politics than past elections.
Much of the race was focused on purely local issues like the rapid development of the northern portion of the city, worries over public safety, and flooding concerns.
On the other hand, in recent years Tecklenburg has taken sometimes very liberal stances on Charleston issues related to race, policing, and other hot-button national political disputes.
In part, some viewed the race as a battle for Charleston’s soul.
Charleston has grown dramatically over the past decade. And with its uptick in new arrivals, development in the northern end of the city has blossomed.
New housing developments, often created quickly and at low cost, now pepper the upper half of the city, much different from the historical and classical architectural styles of Charleston’s southern side.
Cogswell, well aware of this dynamic, made “good development,” as opposed to what he described as “bad development,” a pillar of his mayoral campaign.
But Charleston City Councilwoman Caroline Parker noted that, while she thinks local issues were more at play, national politicals also played a role in the outcome.
She argued that, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter riots that rocked Charleston in 2020, Tecklenburg “injected national rhetoric” into Charleston—rhetoric that unnerved moderate Charleston voters.
“Sometimes I think we secretly think of Charleston as our little bubble. “Like, ‘Oh, it can’t happen here,’” Parker said, referencing the widespread property damage caused by the riots.
“When that sort of national rhetoric sort of crept its way into our locality, it’s upsetting.”
With his victory over Tecklenburg, Cogswell is set to lead the city for the next four years.
Because Charleston imposes no term limits on its mayor, Cogswell could continue in the role for years to come.
— Joseph Lord
IMPEACHMENT ON THE FLOOR
The House is moving toward a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
In one of his final actions as speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in a bid to assuage conservatives in his caucus, announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden.
That move was controversial, inasmuch as McCarthy declared the inquiry unilaterally, without a vote of the full House—breaking an earlier promise.
McCarthy announced the probe amid findings by three House committees—Judiciary, Oversight Committee, and Ways and Means—that suggested that Biden may have engaged in influence peddling over his son’s business ventures while serving as vice president.
During the 2010s, first son Hunter Biden, the president’s brother James Biden, the president’s daughter-in-law Hallie Biden, and others close to Hunter Biden received over $21 million from foreign sources in Romania, Ukraine, China, and elsewhere.
This raised a red flag for Republicans, who allege the evidence points toward Biden using his power as vice president to aid Hunter Biden’s businesses.
However, the nature of the probe’s creation has led to difficulties for House Republican investigators.
Though a vote of the House isn’t technically required to open an impeachment inquiry, the White House has claimed that the inquiry is illegitimate, and has thus far refused to cooperate with it.
During an interview with Fox News on Saturday, House Speaker Mike Johnson signaled that he’s prepared to bring the impeachment inquiry to a vote of the full House.
“We’re being stonewalled by the White House, because they’re preventing at least two to three DOJ witnesses from coming forward, a former White House counsel, the national archives ... the White House has withheld thousands of pages of evidence,” Johnson said.
He added, “I think it’s something we have to do at this juncture.”
Republicans have indicated to reporters that a vote on the impeachment inquiry could happen as soon as next week.
However, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that the House will ultimately accept an impeachment inquiry.
Currently, Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the House.
With the expulsion of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) last week, Johnson can now spare no more than three defections on any vote.
But that could pose challenges.
18 members of the Republican conference in the 118th Congress come from districts which Biden won in 2020—and these lawmakers may be less than enthusiastic about voting to advance an impeachment inquiry against him.
Thus, the proposed impeachment vote could represent another political loss for Johnson when it’s brought to the floor, potentially as early as this week.
TRUMP AND EVANGELICALS
Since President Ronald Reagan united the right under broadly conservative goals in the 1980s, evangelical Christians have been a power player in Republican politics.
But President Donald Trump’s dominant lead in the Republican primary means he doesn’t have to tread as carefully with this voting bloc in this primary cycle as he did in 2016.
This isn’t to say evangelicals don’t support Trump: for the era-defining contest next year, evangelicals appear more pro-Trump than ever. But the president’s greatly expanded appeal to the wider Republican base means he could win the primaries even if evangelicals don’t turn up to the polls.
Evangelicals, generally conservative Christians who describe themselves as “born again,” emphasize making positive changes on the world and living a moral Christian lifestyle.
In 2016, Trump won broad support among evangelicals—support that’s only grown since then.
Evangelicals remain a strong, if declining in numbers, bloc of the Republican base.
Republicans are solidly behind Trump, who rated 60 percent in an average of national polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight on Nov. 22. Subtracting the entire evangelical voting bloc, which was about 21 percent of Republican voters in 2020, would still leave President Trump with a double-digit lead.
In 2016, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, evangelicals became motivated to support Trump for one reason: his pro-life stance. Evangelicals hoped that, under Trump, a conservative majority would take over the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade. That’s exactly what happened.
Now, however, the political calculus has changed, and Trump knows it: to secure a general election win, Trump could be forced to alienate some evangelicals on abortion.
Strict abortion bans have proven unpopular with voters even in red strongholds like Kentucky and Kansas; last month voters in Ohio— a safely red state in the past several elections—likewise approved a measure adding the right to an abortion to the Ohio state constitution.
Seeing this dilemma, Trump has softened his rhetoric on abortion, criticizing Florida’s six-week abortion ban as “harsh.”
On the other hand, the cultural landscape has also changed dramatically since 2016: the abortion has, to some extent, taken a backseat to cultural issues like transgender ideology.
On these issues, Trump has been strongly in line with his party and evangelicals alike, vowing to stop the “mutilation” of children through surgeries and hormones, and promising to take steps to keep biological men out of women’s sports.
For evangelicals, these issues may prove more important than abortion, as any federal action on abortion is now unlikely given the makeup of Congress.
Trump’s softened rhetoric on abortion doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on his support among conservative and Christian voters, who seem on track to help hand Trump the nomination for a third time in 2024.
—Joseph Lord and Lawrence Wilson
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