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Trump Could Lose South Carolina

It has been 40 years since South Carolina went for a Democrat in a presidential election.

We have to go all the way back to 1976, in a race involving probably the weakest incumbent president in U.S. history, to find the last time the blood-red state went blue.

Eventually winner Jimmy Carter was practically gifted the presidency that cycle -- incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford was never actually elected to national office, and found himself in the White House after a comedy of errors.

First, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 after he was accused of taking bribes in his previous job as governor of Maryland. Then-President Richard Nixon appointed Ford to the vice presidency after Agnew's resignation, but Ford got another unexpected promotion when Nixon himself was caught up in scandal and resigned in the wake of Watergate in 1974.

Despite all that -- and an overwhelming national tide of disgust with the Republican party -- Ford still earned 43 percent of the vote in South Carolina to Carter's 56 percent.

That context illustrates just how Republican and conservative a state South Carolina is -- a state that flew the Confederate flag above its capitol until 2015, has an active secessionist movement and remains the epicenter of antebellum nostalgia.

So it was certainly surprising to hear that not one, but two polls show Hillary Clinton tied or within striking distance of Republican nominee Donald Trump in South Carolina as the 2016 campaign trudges on.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, a prime idealogue, couldn't contain her excitement on her Aug. 23 broadcast.

"You're gonna think I'm kidding," Maddow said, chuckling, "but the presidential race appears to be tied in South Carolina. Yep, I said South Carolina, not North Carolina!"

Combined with Trump's other troubles, and coming on the heels of a disastrous summer that has seen Trump shoot himself in the foot, it's not surprising to learn that a bastion of Republican politics -- a state so red that Republicans barely pay it any attention in general elections -- could defect in 2016.

And as a revolving cast of campaign veterans and managers have failed to rein in the mercurial candidate, who seems to have no filter between his brain and his mouth, it's easy to imagine how things could get much, much worse for Trump with less than three months to go before election day.

Who knows? Trump could get into a war of words with a toddler next week, threaten to nuke Antarctica, and revive Newt Gingrich's Moon Base to sink his poll numbers into murkier depths. He is, after all, the same surprise candidate who once said he could shoot someone and get away with it, bragged about the size of his penis at a Republican debate, and kept a straight face during an interview in which he claimed that the "sacrifice" of financing building construction was tantamount to a slain soldier's sacrifice.

At this point, if Trump showed up to his next campaign rally dressed as Darth Vader, walking out to the Imperial March theme, most people probably wouldn't bat an eye.

"Our border security guards are gonna have the best lightsabers! The best! They're gonna be blue, and green, and even purple, and they're gonna be terrific! We'll have such amazing, big league lightsabers that the terrorists -- and by the way, Crooked Hillary doesn't have a plan for lightsabers, does she?"

And yet, there's something off about those polls Maddow is so excited about. The Real Clear Politics aggregate has Trump up by four points in South Carolina -- not a huge margin, but still a lead.

As Maddow admitted, in an aside mumbled in a much less excited voice, the first poll comes by way of Public Policy Polling, and was paid for by the state Democratic party. The second poll, by the Feldman Group, was also financed by the South Carolina Democratic Party.

So are these real polls, or a form of wish fulfillment fantasy?

“Let me spare everyone the suspense,” Ed McMullen, Trump's South Carolina campaign chairman, told the state's Post and Courier. “I predict we’ll have six more of these ‘troll polls’ before Labor Day ... They know they don’t have a chance, and so does everyone else.”

Trump communications advisor Jason Miller also dismissed the results.

"Paid for by the SC Dem Party," Miller tweeted. "May as well be written in crayon."

The only news here is that the polls aren't news -- Democrats claim they're going to win a state, Republicans claim the opposite. What we're seeing is spin, nothing more.

Election history indicates the Republican candidate will win South Carolina, but we all know Trump isn't a conventional candidate or a conventional Republican, and most of the conventional wisdom about campaigns doesn't apply to him.

Could Trump lose South Carolina? Sure. But at this point, anyone offering ironclad predictions about this race is just asking to be proven wrong.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: MSNBC, The Post and Courier, The Hill, Jason Miller/Twitter, Real Clear Politics / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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