GOP Rep. Nancy Mace Defeats Trump-Backed Challenger

With Donald Trump’s blessing, Katie Arrington questioned Mace’s conservative credentials.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) speaks during a news conference about a cannabis reform bill she introduced in November.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) speaks during a news conference about a cannabis reform bill she introduced in November.
Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) defeated a primary challenger backed by former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, handing Trump another setback on his quest to punish Republicans who break with him.

Mace, a staunch fiscal conservative, prevailed over Katie Arrington, a former state lawmaker.

Arrington, who served in Trump’s Department of Defense, slammed Mace for voting to certify the 2020 election results and criticizing Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot.

With the benefit of a major fundraising advantage and high-profile endorsements of her own though, Mace successfully argued that she was both a “constitutional conservative,” and better equipped to preserve GOP control over the politically diverse district.

“This speaks to her ability to fundraise, her ability to get her message out to voters,” said Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston. “And it is evidence that Republicans were interested in keeping this seat in Republican hands.”

Mace is now due to take on Democratic nominee Annie Andrews, a pediatrician, in the general election. Mace is favored to hold the seat, which was redrawn this year to have a more conservative electorate.

Mace’s win in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District comes on the heels of primary outcomes in Georgia that were similarly disappointing for Trump.

But there are limits to the implications of GOP voters’ preferences in the coastal, Lowcountry region where Republicans tend to have an independent streak. In South Carolina’s adjacent 7th Congressional District, by contrast, the more conservative Republican electorate ousted Rep. Tom Rice (R), another Trump critic, on Tuesday.

“Certainly in the first congressional district, the majority of the base has moved beyond Trump and is concerned about electability,” Knotts said.

Although the makeup of South Carolina’s 1st was more liberal in 2020, Arrington’s electoral history gave Mace ammunition to argue that Arrington was a risky bet for Republicans.

In 2018, Arrington ousted then-Rep. Mark Sanford (R) in a primary, largely because of Sanford’s outspoken criticism of Trump. She went on to lose the seat to Democrat Joe Cunningham in the general election. Mace unseated Cunningham in the following election cycle.

In addition, Mace, who worked on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, struck a careful balance in her criticism of Trump. Unlike Rice, who lost his primary on Tuesday, Mace did not vote to impeach Trump for his role in fomenting the U.S. Capitol riot. She did, however, vote to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt for refusing to testify before Congress about his role in the violent event.

Mace benefited from the support of two senior Trump administration officials: Nikki Haley, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor; and Mick Mulvaney, former Trump chief of staff and South Carolina congressman.

A leaked text-message exchange between Arrington and Mulvaney in March, after Mulvaney endorsed Mace, contributed to a sense that Arrington was a flawed candidate. In response to Arrington calling him a “piece of shit” and questioning whether Mulvaney’s Catholicism had made him a poor choice for Trump administration envoy to Northern Ireland, Mulvaney wrote, “You need to realize that you might be unstable.”

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