Posting Ls: Rep. Nancy Mace
A close reading of the Congresswoman's social media
I have a more in-depth piece in the works for next week’s newsletter, so forgive me if this week’s issue is a little shallow.
This is the second installment of the occasional series Posting Ls, in which I overanalyze a politician’s online presence. I started this summer with Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who is known for his interesting socks and maddeningly empty rhetoric:
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is a first-term member of Congress running for re-election in South Carolina’s First District. This district covers the coast from Hilton Head up through Charleston, curling inland around Jim Clyburn’s Democratic fiefdom to incorporate the more reliably Republican parts of the Charleston suburbs. Mace is playing defense against a Democratic challenger, the pediatrician Dr. Annie Andrews, who reportedly cleaned her clock in a televised debate last week.
Since becoming the first woman to graduate from The Citadel in 1999, Mace has spent much of her career working in Republican politics. She started a consulting business called The Mace Group in 2008, and by 2012 she was a business partner at FITSNews, a steamy South Carolina gossip blog founded by a former staffer from Gov. Mark Sanford’s office.
Mace worked on several right-wingers’ campaigns, culminating in her work on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president. In 2020, after serving a short stint filling the seat of a state lawmaker who stepped down amid a corruption scandal, Mace ran for Congress and won back the First District for the Republican Party.
The funniest thing Nancy Mace ever posted was a video of herself standing outside Trump Tower in February 2022 after the ex-president endorsed Mace’s Republican primary challenger Katie Arrington. Mace wasn’t explicitly pleading for Trump to take her back, but she didn’t exactly sound too proud to beg, either:
Hey everyone, Congresswoman Nancy Mace here. I’m in front of Trump Tower today, and I remember in 2015 when President Trump announced his run. I was one of his earliest supporters, I actually worked for the campaign in 2016, I worked in 7 different states across the country to help get him elected.
Like every person who pinned their political fortunes to Trump, Mace has spent the last few years defining and re-defining her public image in relation to him. Like her fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley, Mace proved to be a little too lukewarm for the big guy’s liking. She criticized Trump for inciting a putsch at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but she stopped short of voting to impeach him for it. She earned some back-pats from the centrist press but likely cost herself the Trump endorsement with that move.
During the current campaign season, Mace has become hyperfixated on transgender people and their families. Here’s a sampling of her posts on the subject:
This obsession hardly makes Mace unique among U.S. conservatives. She is using the same playbook as @LibsOfTiktok, Matt Walsh, and others who have spread medical disinformation and directed harassment campaigns at children’s hospitals. According to Media Matters, which tracks right-wing messaging, those campaigns inspired at least one bomb threat at Boston Children’s Hospital in September and have intimidated hospital administrators in Washington, D.C., Akron, Ohio, and Nashville, Tenn., into removing information for trans patients from their public-facing websites.
Mace and her former business partner Will Folks at FITSNews (and, briefly, Elon Musk) tried to drum up a similar panic at the Medical University of South Carolina, which has a pediatric endocrinology clinic but does not perform gender-affirming surgery on patients under age 18. She released a short attack ad calling Dr. Andrews “too woke” based on her vocal support for age-appropriate gender-affirming care.
Mace and her allies didn’t elicit the same frenzy as their counterparts in other cities, thank God. But they did push Andrews, who works at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, to take unpaid leave from the hospital “in order to protect myself and my colleagues.”
“I knew politics would be ugly,” Andrews told the local news, “but I never thought I’d see the day when my own congresswoman would accuse me — a pediatrician for over a decade — of ‘child abuse.’”
Who is the creative force behind all that ugliness? It’s hard to say. I do know based on FEC filings that Mace’s campaign has spent more than $100,000 this year on digital consulting and advertising services from Push Digital, a political consultancy and ad agency based in Charleston. The agency has worked on all kinds of lucrative conservative projects, from Herschel Walker’s current Senate campaign to Marco Rubio’s failed 2016 presidential bid to SeaWorld’s damage control after the Blackfish documentary.
Push Digital’s founding partner Wesley Donehue has kept a slightly lower profile since an anti-abortion Facebook rant earned the ire of the workers at a local brewery he co-owned, but he still occasionally runs his mouth.
On Oct. 18, Dr. Andrews held a press conference in which a woman shared the story of losing a fetus, in the context of Republicans’ attacks on abortion rights. According to Andrews, the Mace campaign sent four men to the press conference who snickered and jeered as they listened. Donehue couldn’t help himself. @RunWithWesley tweeted: “Yeah. They look real distracting just standing there. You aren’t ready for prime time. Start with little league.” He added a video clip of someone, apparently an Andrews supporter, flicking off someone from Team Mace.
Mace responded too:
If you're afraid of a few men, how can you ever be expected to lead? You don't lead out of fear. You don't lead from behind.
Leadership takes courage.
It takes guts.
It takes a woman who is not afraid.
The arguments our politicians make, the lies they tell, and the cruelty they dish out are worth scrutinizing, all the more because we know their statements passed through a communications team that’s working overtime to keep the candidate “on message.”
There are limits to what you can know about a politician based on their social media output, though. You run into the same limits when you try to read too much into a televised debate performance.
A debate is just a series of posts, prepared in advance and spun immediately afterward. Your candidate got in a memorable jab against an opponent? That was a spoken tweet. The other guy made a gaffe? What you just saw was a highly pressurized media campaign sputtering through a fallible human vessel.
That’s hardly an original observation; I’m just rephrasing things Neil Postman said in 1985. I don’t mean to be cynical. The person behind the posts is unknowable to us.
So maybe it’s all an act for Rep. Mace. Or maybe this is who she always was. The outcome is the same.
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