But Wood – who has only moved to South Carolina from Georgia this year – draws unusually large crowds as he campaigns on the baseless claim that the election was stolen from Trump and that officials in the GOP must keep fighting to prove it. It’s a deeply held belief in the party’s base, a reality brought to light this week when House Republicans removed Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position because she said Trump and his supporters were lying about a stolen election.
Against this background, Wood sought to condemn McKissick for admitting that Biden was the president.
“Vote for McKissick if you conceded the election,” Wood wrote Thursday to his 848,000 subscribers on social media app Telegram, where he showed a video clip of McKissick acknowledging the reality of the Electoral College results.
“Unlike McKissick, President Trump has never conceded the election. Me neither, ”Wood wrote. “I intend to keep fighting to expose the TRUTH: Donald J. Trump has won a crushing election and is our President. I pray that SCGOP delegates choose wisely. “
The contest animates one of the best-organized Republican parties in the country and one of the largest – South Carolina hosts the first presidential primary in the South.
Wood went well beyond Trump’s refuted claims that the election was stolen from the former president. It favors wild conspiracy theories postulating that Biden is in fact dead – replaced by body doubles – and that Trump is still president and plans to reveal himself phoenix-style to punish his enemies.
And like Trump, Wood is already accusing McKissick of voter fraud – without any evidence – even before the first ballots are cast on Saturday.
“It just made internal cancer worse,” said Joel Sawyer, former executive director of the South Carolina GOP.
“What’s going to happen on Saturday is McKissick is going to win, and Lin Wood is going to say it was fraud and yell and yell conspiracy theories,” Sawyer said. “The problem in South Carolina is that many people at the county level, at the delegate level, have echoed the former president’s allegations of electoral fraud, but those same people are now going to have to turn around and defend the election. legitimacy. of this election. But they don’t have much moral authority to challenge allegations of frivolous election fraud. “
McKissick supporters handed out flyers mentioning all the financially backed Wood Democrats in the past, and posted videos on social media about the many controversies that swirled around the lawyer, ranging from being sued by alumni colleagues at the enactment of QAnon at the investigation for potential voter fraud in Georgia.
There is little doubt about McKissick’s dedication to Trump: he called off the 2020 GOP primary in the state, depriving former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford – who sought to challenge Trump – of an opportunity to have his message heard. McKissick also chaired big hits for the party in the 2020 election.
But Wood, who has been involved in numerous unsuccessful lawsuits to overturn the November election results, argues that McKissick did not sufficiently support Trump and the “Stop the Steal” movement after the election.
Trump issued an endorsement from McKissick on Friday, the second time the former president has publicly backed the president since Wood entered the race, and the third time overall. Yet Wood always tried to cast doubt on whether McKissick was truly endorsed by Trump.
Two days earlier, at a “Pints & Politics” forum hosted by the Post and Courier newspaper, McKissick did a delicate balancing act when asked if Biden was the rightful president.
“Regarding the electoral college, yes. He won the Electoral College, ”McKissick said, noting that Biden was“ certified ”as the winner.
These arguments, however, fell flat with the party wing that is steeped in QAnon and deeply fascinated by Trump. The result is a race that stands out even by the scathing standards of South Carolina.
Wood went so far as to make dark innuendo that McKissick is not doing enough to stop the “real pandemic” of pedophilia, and suggested he should resign for unspecified “nefarious activities” with GOP Senator Lindsey Graham. Wood also called the coronavirus pandemic a “plandemic,” suggesting it was part of an organized conspiracy.
“GOP races, and particularly chair races, in South Carolina have always been a circus,” said Luke Byars, a former executive director of the party. “But this is a first for many of us who have had a lot of crazy discussions in the party. I don’t think anyone has gotten to this level. “
Byars and other party insiders say Wood is exploiting the roughly 25% of the party and delegates who seem to want a change after every election and often gravitate towards any challenger who pledges to be more conservative than the establishment – though South Carolina’s establishment is among the most conservative in the country.
The state party’s convention will be different this year due to the coronavirus. It will still be held in the capital of Columbia, but Covid protocols and distancing rules have made it too difficult to secure a room large enough to accommodate the 870 delegates who will vote to elect the next president, party officials say .
The result is that delegates’ votes will be cast on hand-marked ballots and take place at satellite meetings in individual counties or at regional meetings. The election results will then be sent to the party’s headquarters. The process will be broadcast live.
Wood has previously raised concerns about the process. McKissick’s allies privately acknowledge that this will likely benefit the incumbent, as Wood’s strength is in public speaking and crowd-agitating. Satellite meetings remove all the excitement and fireworks that could be playing to Wood’s advantage.
“Having a convention is like smoking a cigarette in a barn full of hay,” said a McKissick ally, quoting former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, describing how passions can suddenly catch fire in a giant, packed hall. political activists.
“It’s an indoor baseball game, and Drew has been playing ball inside the GOP for quite some time,” said Sanford, the former governor.
Regarding Wood’s candidacy and the conspiracy theories he is spreading to chase the post of president, Sanford said it was “a reminder that Trumpism, sadly, is not dead. We’re going to have these conversations for a long time. “
GOP strategist Wes Donehue said he thinks “Wood’s candidacy is an immediate nothing-burger, but in the long run everyone better be careful.” The base is pissed off and questions anyone and anyone who has been around for more than two years.
One of McKissick’s main allies expressed a similar concern, saying, “There has always been passion in our party and very conservative members. But it is as if some people have lost their minds and we fear it is contagious.
Former state GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who has seen his fair share of intra-party knife fights, said he was not concerned about Wood’s offer. He said Wood couldn’t win because he was too new to the state.
“You don’t just show up in South Carolina, buy a plantation and become Republican president,” Dawson said. “Lin Wood could not be elected a dog catcher.”
Dawson said he was more worried Trump would announce his presidential election plans before it was too late in the 2024 cycle for others to organize effectively. If Trump decides not to run, but doesn’t communicate it early enough, it could make it harder for other Republicans to build strong campaigns in the state and beyond, Dawson said.
But Sawyer, the party’s former executive director, said party leaders need to pay attention to conspiracy theories promulgated by Wood – and Trump – or the GOP could lose another presidential election.
“The Republican Party is going to have to decide where the crux of all these conspiracy theories lies,” he said.