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Rep. Nancy Mace defeats Trump-backed challenger Katie Arrington

Mace appealed to Trump supporters on issues he popularized

Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina leaves the House Republican Conference caucus meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on April 27.
Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina leaves the House Republican Conference caucus meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on April 27. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace defied former President Donald Trump’s efforts to oust her, overcoming his depiction of her as an unhinged traitor to conservative values to win a Republican primary Tuesday against a rival he had endorsed. 

Mace was leading former state Rep. Katie Arrington 53 percent to 45 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 11:13 p.m. 

Mace’s victory — coming amid a series of nationally broadcast hearings from a House select committee investigating Trump’s role in firing up supporters ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — offers a potential playbook for fellow Republicans seeking to distance themselves from the former president while embracing policies he made  popular with the Republican base. 

But it is unlikely to offer much satisfaction to Democrats looking to the 2022 elections as a sign that voters are willing to hold Trump — and the Republican lawmakers who have embraced his baseless election fraud claims — accountable for the Capitol assault.

Mace is one of dozens of Republicans  whose loyalty to Trump has been challenged in primaries this cycle. But while she was among Trump’s fiercest critics in the days after Jan.  6, she quickly walked back her remarks and sided with Trump’s defenders on a series of key votes. 

Mace campaigned for Trump in South Carolina and had been in office for only a few days when she went on CNN on Jan. 7 to say  Trump’s incitement of the rioters the previous day had “wiped out” his legacy. 

But as GOP leadership abandoned their early willingness to engage questions about Trump’s role in the riot and closed ranks around the former president, Mace came back to the fold.

Opposed impeachment, inquiry

She had voted Jan. 6 to certify the 2020 election, but she did not join the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the president or join 35 Republicans to vote for a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection. 

When Arrington announced her campaign, Mace responded with a video filmed in front of Trump Tower in New York City in which she praised the former president and ticked through all the work she had done over the years to support him.

Trump, in turn, traveled to South Carolina to appear at a March rally with Arrington and 7th District challenger Russell Fry. He lambasted Mace as “a woman who is just not with us” in a call with supporters last week. 

Trump reiterated his attacks in a statement Sunday. “Don’t forget that Katie Arrington, a wonderful person, is running against the terrible Nancy Mace, who really let us down,” it read. 

“Nancy fights Republicans all the time and is not at all nice about it.  Frankly, she is despised by almost everyone, and who needs that in Congress, or in the Republican Party?”

Frequent Fox guest

But other forces in the Republican Party gave her a platform. Mace, the first female graduate of the Corps of Cadets at The Citadel, became a go-to guest on Fox News, burnishing her profile with the program’s right-leaning viewers with interviews on Republicans’ biggest talking points. On Monday, for example, she joined the “Fox & Friends” morning show to blame the Biden administration for what she predicted would be violent protests in response to an anticipated Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade.   

She also received support from other high-profile Republicans attempting to disentangle their political careers from Trump. She was endorsed by both former acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

Mace argued that Arrington was too extreme for the 1st District, which stretches along the state’s southern coastline. Arrington ran there in 2018 and defeated then-Rep. Mark Sanford in a Republican primary, only to lose in the general election to Democrat Joe Cunningham, who held the district for one term before Mace defeated him in 2020.

After redistricting, the 1st District would have voted for Trump by 8 points in 2020, and the race in November is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

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