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South Carolina Conservatives 'Catering to the Angry Fringe'?

South Carolina Rift Highlights Debate Over G.O.P.
Shaila Dewan's Sunday A1 story from Charleston, South Carolina is a familiar Times chestnut - major "rifts" are tearing the Republican Party apart: "South Carolina Rift Highlights Debate Over G.O.P." (The Democratic Party apparently has no such rifts, even though the party's prospects are on the decline and the G.O.P.'s on the rise.)

When Senator Lindsey Graham joined forces last month with Senator John Kerry on a compromise to the climate change legislation known as cap and trade, it was the last straw for the Charleston County Republican Party.

The county party, which has traditionally been considered moderate, voted by a wide margin to censure Mr. Graham in harsh terms.

Their grievance list was long: it cited the senator for calling opponents of immigration law change "bigots," holding the Republican Party "hostage" by participating in bipartisan maneuvers, voting for the Wall Street bailout and tarnishing the ideals of freedom.

It even criticized Mr. Graham, a Republican and the state's senior senator, as having "stated on many occasions that his primary concern is to 'be relevant.' "

The party had no such criticism for the other senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint.

In fact, Mr. DeMint, a Republican in his first term, is the leader of a movement to pull the party in the opposite direction from Mr. Graham's conciliatory approach. The political action committee he founded, called the Senate Conservatives Fund, backs only candidates who are rock-solid conservatives, and adherents to his views have led the efforts to censure Mr. Graham.

Dewan used the voting ratings of the American Conservative Union to vouch for Graham's conservative credentials, something the paper rarely does with liberal Democrats, while also suggesting the more moderate Graham was the more "pragmatic" of the two:

The voting records of Mr. Graham and Mr. DeMint are actually not that far apart - according to the American Conservative Union, which gives Mr. Graham a lifetime rating of 90 out of 100, he voted with Mr. DeMint on bellwether issues 80 percent of the time in 2008. Mr. DeMint is the only senator the group designates as a "Defender of Liberty," its highest accolade.

Instead, the two men diverge on their vision of the party's future. Mr. DeMint, who declined an interview for this article after several requests, has said he would prefer having fewer, but ideologically pure, Republicans in the Senate rather than more Republicans who were ideologically suspect.

Mr. Graham takes the more pragmatic view, countering in an interview that neither he nor Mr. DeMint would be electable in states like Maine or California, but that a single centrist Republican senator from a moderate state could give the party enough votes to block President Obama's major initiatives.

Dewan used advice from a "staunchly conservative black Republican" to imply South Carolina conservatives were rhetorically reckless.

Others say that catering to the angry fringe will only keep the party small.

"In all candor, being a Republican who is primarily working in African-American and Hispanic areas, Lindsey Graham makes it easier for me to be a Republican in those demographics," said Marvin D. Rogers, 33, a staunchly conservative black Republican in Rock Hill.

"I'm not asking anyone to be any less conservative - please don't," Mr. Rogers said. "But be more civil in communicating that conservative message. Don't get on TV talking about 'The president's a racist.' Don't get on the radio talking about Waterloos."

Back in April, Dewan mocked conservative South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's "extreme" frugality and for refusing federal stimulus money.