CHARLESTON, S.C. — Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley earned national acclaim last summer when she spearheaded the legislative effort to remove the Confederate flag from her state capitol.
The move cemented her status as a rising star in the GOP and elevated her to the A-list of possible running mates for a White House ticket.
However, many South Carolina Republican voters, in particular those who are supporting Donald Trump, weren’t so pleased with the decision to take down the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.
According to the latest Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday, 54 percent of Republican voters said the flag should still be flying on the capitol grounds while 32 percent believed it should not be flown. Among Trump’s supporters the state, the number in favor of the flag remaining on capitol grounds rose to 70 percent with 20 percent in opposition to the idea. (RELATED: Pollster Tries Really, Really Hard To Make GOP Seem Racist)
The reason why the majority of Republicans in the first state to secede from the Union is that they see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride rather than of racial hatred, according to a 2015 Winthrop University poll. That poll, which was taken shortly after the Confederate flag was taken down, found that nearly 70 percent of Republicans in the state view it positively, but more Republicans said they supported its removal than PPP’s recent survey.
Even though PPP’s study didn’t show how Haley’s effort to take down the flag affected how Republicans in her state view her, a Wednesday report from the liberal ThinkProgress found more than a few Trump supporters who said they “can’t forgive” the governor for her decision to remove the contentious symbol.
For years South Carolina has debated over whether the Confederate flag should fly on the grounds of the state capitol.
Following last summer’s murder of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church by a white supremacist, South Carolina’s legislature voted to remove the Civil War symbol from capitol grounds.
Nearly all GOP presidential candidates publicly supported the removal of the flag from the capitol grounds, including Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz, while not defending the flying of the flag, insisted to the press that it was an issue best left to South Carolinians. A few of Cruz’s surrogates in the state led the fight against the Confederate symbol’s capitol removal.
While the flag has remained a distant concern during this year’s primary, it has served as a subject for which to grill Republican presidential hopefuls in recent contests.
In late 1999, debate erupted over whether the Confederate flag should continue to fly atop the state’s capitol dome. The issue was later resolved in April 2000 after it was agreed the emblem would be taken down from the dome and placed on a pole on grounds adjacent to the South Carolina State House.
But before the compromise was reached in the spring, both leading Republican candidates in 2000 — George W. Bush and John McCain — had to answer questions on the controversy. Bush strictly maintained an ambivalent stance and insisted the flag’s fate should be left to South Carolinians. McCain, on the other hand, took contrasting stands on the flag only days apart.
Shortly before voting began, McCain said the flag was a “symbol of racism and slavery” one day, and the next said it was a “symbol of heritage.” However, like Bush, he never gave an opinion as to whether it should continue flying atop the state house while running in 2000. A few months later, the Arizona senator said he regretted not publicly supporting the flag’s removal while campaigning in the state.In 2008, McCain and Mitt Romney were attacked in ads that ran in South Carolina over both then-Republican candidates saying they oppose the flying of the Confederate flag on the capitol grounds.
During the 2012 primary, then-candidate Newt Gingrich earned applause from South Carolina audiences when he said the decision to fly the flag on the capitol grounds was up to the residents of the state. South Carolina was one of only two states Gingrich won in his bid for the Republican nomination.