Donald Trump picked up his highest-profile endorsement yet in South Carolina after Lt. Governor Henry McMaster offered his backing Wednesday night.
McMaster — the state’s former Attorney General — shocked many in the state’s political circles when he offered his endorsement moments before introducing Trump at an event in Lexington County.
“South Carolina is going to have the most decisive presidential primary election this election cycle. We’re right in the middle of it,” he told an estimated 4,000 people gathered at Harmon’s Tree Farm in Gilbert. “But we want everybody to get out and vote. And, when you do, do like I do… vote for Donald Trump for president.”
McMaster is hardly a political outsider, like many of Trump’s higher-profile endorsements. The lieutenant governor was the South Carolina Republican Party chairman for nearly a decade and was subsequently elected attorney general in 2002, reelected in 2006, and ran unsuccessfully for governor against then-State Rep. Nikki Haley. He won the lieutenant governor’s position during the 2014 election.
Trump spoke for slightly more than 45 minutes at a barn on the site, touching on his usual topics of foreign trade, immigration, and his strong poll numbers. But he also reflected on his position as Iowa heads to the caucus in just a few days.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” he said, predicting success even if he does not win the Iowa caucus. “Because what we have going… it’s a movement. It’s not like a normal situation.”
He also took more shots at his closest opponent in the polls Texas Sen. Ted Cruz than in previous South Carolina stops. He criticized a loan Cruz received from Goldman Sachs to fund his first 2012 Senate campaign and hinted Cruz would be beholden to the New York investment bank.
Trump also briefly staked out two positions that put him at odds with many in his own party, defending his positions on “women’s health” and his support for eminent domain to benefit private real estate developments.
He criticized Jeb Bush for “not wanting to put money into women’s health issues,” such as Planned Parenthood. “I want to money into that. There’s women’s health issues that some people don’t want to fund. You know that,” he said, insisting female voters were more likely to support his position. “We’re going to take care of everybody.”
The real estate mogul also defended eminent domain after several conservative organizations and media (particularly the National Review magazine) attacked his support for the forced sale of private land for economic development purposes. Trump said the government “will pay you a fortune, if you’re smart” when it buys the property and accused Republicans of being hypocrites for their support of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I don’t love it. You need it,” he argued. “You’ve got to build a road, a railroad…. You wouldn’t get 10 feet of the Keystone pipeline without eminent domain.”
Trump promised he would spend much more time in South Carolina as the primary approached. Eleven days elapse between New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary and South Carolina’s on Feb. 20.
“I’m going to be here so much, you’re going to be so sick of me,” he joked. “You’re going to say, ‘Get the Hell out of here, Trump, we can’t stand you.’ But let me just tell something: we’re going to win and then we’re going to beat Hillary or whoever the Hell they put in front of us. We’re going to beat them. Because nobody’s got this going. “