One of the few things that has made the first days of the Trump presidency bearable is seeing Republican congressmen from crimson-red districts get slammed at town hall meetings. It proves the lie to the line that the growing buyers’ remorse about Trump is just fake news. We got another example of this on Tuesday, from one of the reddest districts in the South. That district’s congressman learned the hard way that his constituents were having none of his lying and dissembling.
South Carolina’s 2nd District, based in Columbia, was one of the earliest districts in the South to turn Republican. It has been in Republican hands without interruption since 1965, when incumbent Democrat Albert Watson resigned from the House and won a special election as a Republican. Some parts of the district haven’t supported a Democrat for president since 1956. It has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+12, due mainly to the influence of Columbia and Augusta’s suburbs. Like many suburban areas in the South, these areas are mostly very religious and very Republican.
The district’s current congressman, Joe Wilson, was first elected in a 2001 special election to succeed former Armed Services Committee chairman Floyd Spence, who had recently died months after winning a 16th term. He is best known outside of South Carolina for yelling “You lie!” at President Obama when he told a joint session of Congress that his health care reforms would not extend benefits to undocumented immigrants. In case you missed it, watch here.
Under pressure from Republican leadership, Wilson apologized to Obama that night.
That didn’t go far enough for House Democrats, who passed a resolution formally reprimanding Wilson after he refused to apologize to the House as well. Democrat Jim Clyburn, who represents the other side of Columbia in the House, explained it simply–this was about respect for the House as an institution.
Wilson’s outburst hasn’t hurt his standing back home, though. He has only really had to break a sweat twice in a general election since 2001. In 2008, Iraq War veteran Rob Miller held him to 54 percent of the vote. Miller challenged him again, and this time held him to only 53 percent of the vote–which was all the more remarkable given how much of a disaster 2010 was for Democrats nationally. In every other election, Wilson has never dropped below 62 percent of the vote. He actually outperformed Trump in 2016; while Wilson won an eighth full term with 62 percent of the vote, Trump only carried the 2nd with 56 percent of the vote–three points fewer than what Mitt Romney got in 2012.
On Monday, Wilson held a town hall at Aiken Technical College in Graniteville, on the South Carolina side of the Augusta metropolitan area. Even by South Carolina standards, Aiken County is crimson red; it hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since 1956. So you can probably imagine how surprised Wilson was when he encountered a crowd that was, to put it mildly, not very friendly.
Wilson claimed that he fully supported the Violence Against Women Act, and was working with the solicitors, or district attorneys, in both Aiken County and his native Lexington County, to see that it was enforced. However, the crowd was well aware that he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. So when he declared his support for it, the crowd called him on it–loudly. He was also hooted and hissed when he expressed his support for right-to-work laws, as well as when he mentioned Trump or Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
But the most beautiful moment came while Wilson was answering the final question of the night. A constituent wanted to know why he was still trying to repeal Obamacare rather than improve it. Wilson claimed that it was the best way to fix health care, claiming it was “denying services, delaying services.” That prompted one woman to start chanting, “You lie! You lie!”–a chant quickly picked up by the rest of the crowd. Looks like several years of resentment came bubbling to the surface.
This was a thing of beauty. It cannot be repeated enough–this is in a county that hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since 1956, and in a district that has been in Republican hands for more than half a century. At the very least, it’s a sign that Wilson won’t be able to breathe easy in 2018.
(featured image courtesy Wilson’s Facebook)