President Donald Trump launched the MAGA movement back in 2015 when he announced his first successful presidential campaign for the White House. The message resonated with millions of us: Make America Great Again, put American interests first, and return to the principles that made this country great to begin with – the principles outlined in our Constitution. Under President Trump’s leadership, hope was restored. America was energy independent. Our borders were secure. Our sons and daughters were not sent to fight in any new wars. And up until the pandemic, our economy was booming.
Then the dubious election of 2020 hit us like a ton of bricks. Americans in almost every state in the union sacrificed their time, money, and even relationships in a desperate attempt to understand what happened and how we could fix it. We tried everything. We canvassed. We studied election law. We studied the election process. We studied how election machines operated. We placed observers to watch over the 2022 election. We ran for office. We did it all. And through this process, we realized we weren’t just fighting Democrats and Marxists, we were fighting a “machine” and to our disappointment, that “machine” included members of our own Republican Party.
President Trump often says, “They’re not after me. They’re after you; I’m just in the way.” And those words became painfully true during the 2022 midterms. The deep state, and bad actors on both sides of the aisle, didn’t just have Trump in their crosshairs, they took aim at any candidate who dared call themselves “America First” and who vocally supported Donald Trump. I know because I was one of them. It wasn’t about Trump, the man – it was about the MAGA movement and what it represents.
I ran for office in South Carolina in 2022 to do my part to save this country. Maybe it’s my military background, or maybe just common sense, but I immediately recognized the tactics being used to defeat me were similar to the ones used against Donald Trump during his entire first term in office. It became clear, the “country club” RINOs in South Carolina were not going to let MAGA candidates threaten their power structure. Even going so far as to sabotage candidates in their own party.
Many primary candidates, like myself, were not even allowed to enter certain “establishment” counties to speak, although it is in the bylaws that we are allowed to speak. Beaufort County is one of them. In other establishment counties, I would drive four hours to only be given two minutes to speak.
The establishment wing of our party was going to great lengths to stop MAGA in its tracks.
And that is why South Carolina patriots worked to weed out the RINO enemy from within and slowly take back our party one small victory at a time.
As we embarked on our mission, it became clear no one was coming to save us. Not the RNC, not even Donald Trump himself. We were focused like a laser on reclaiming the GOP at the state and local level.
Our first target was the precinct elections. America First candidates crushed the RINO establishment by taking over 70 percent of the seats statewide.
After precinct elections, we organized and prepared for the county GOP elections in April. MAGA candidates won approximately 50 percent of the county GOP elections. As an example, in Lexington County, MAGA candidates won all five seats. And out of 51 delegates that Lexington County sent to the state convention, all 51 were MAGA candidates. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s establishment-backed Attorney General Alan Wilson and federal House Representative Joe Wilson couldn’t even muster enough votes to be delegates at the convention.
We then took those precinct and county level victories to the state GOP convention on May 20. Our America First delegates worked to vote RINO Drew McKissick out of his position as chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. While we came up short, America First delegates were a mere 16 votes away from kicking McKissick out.
The takeaway? The precinct strategy worked in South Carolina. Grassroots patriots created the blueprint of what a MAGA takeover looks like at the local level. From soccer moms to mechanics, “We the People” put in the work. We studied parliamentary rules to ensure RINOs had no dirty tricks up their sleeves. We held weekly zoom meetings, did role playing, and discussed strategies to win, and it paid off. For decades, RINOS have had a stronghold on our state, but we are dismantling their machine piece by piece.
The RINO establishment is wounded, and we are never going back to the status quo. The days of “country club Republicans” like Lindsay Graham are over. South Carolina is ground zero for our America First future. And we believe our state can and will be a model for the rest of the country.
Keith Blandford is currently serving as Major in the South Carolina State Guard and First Battalion Commander. He ran for Secretary of State in South Carolina in 2022. He is the first declared primary challenger to Senator Lindsey Graham in 2026.