* By Shawn Drury, Lindsay Street, and Jonathan Allen
The comparisons to pop culture icons are inevitable. The Fab Four. The A-Team. The Four Tops. This year the four freshmen Republican congressman from South Carolina--Trey Gowdy (4th District), Tim Scott (1st), Mick Mulvaney (5rd) and Jeff Duncan (3rd)--have found themselves in the national spotlight to a degree that is unprecedented.
And they haven't wilted from it.
The group was sent to Washington as part of the Tea Party-led tidal wave of voter discontent which threw out dozens of incumbents across the nation and returned the House of Representatives to GOP control.
The historic nature of the 2010 vote is evident in the victories of the South Carolina freshmen.
Gowdy upset longtime incumbent Bob Ingles in the primary and cruised to victory in the general election. Duncan replaced the retiring Gresham Barrett, a fixture in South Carolina politics.
Mulvaney is the first Republican to represent his district since the 19th century.
Scott and Florida's Allen West were the first black Republicans elected to the House from a southern state since Reconstruction.
Once the group arrived in Washington they did not exactly blend into the woodwork. There was an adjustment period before they started making their respective marks, but their connection to each other made it easier to do so.
"Coming up together as freshmen and learning Washington has helped us forge a friendship that I think will last forever," Duncan said.
"We were able to depend on each other," Scott said.
That dependence has been fortified during the foursome's steady criticism of the National Labor Relations Board's fight with Boeing. Maintaining a united front works to the benefit of the state in Gowdy's opinion. "South Carolina is a small enough that it would be disingenuous for us to try to convince one part of the state that its interests are dramatically different than another part of the state," Gowdy said.
Fairly early on, the freshmen realized that they might clash with party leadership. Mulvaney explained: "South Carolina has always been a fiscally conservative state," he said. "And fiscal policy is where we parted with leadership. Every place else we've been right with them."
That parting was crystallized during the debt ceiling debate in the summer. The four broke with party leadership in a public way and found themselves in the national spotlight. They became regulars of the cable news circuit, with Mulvaney making a particularly memorable appearance on the Chris Matthews show on MSNBC. They were criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike and vilified in much of the national media. But they held their ground while the debt ceiling bill passed.
"I'm far less concerned with what the New York Times or the Washington Post thinks than what we think of ourselves," Gowdy said. "The national narrative that I dispute is that there were threats made by leadership or that strong language was used to change our minds."
It won't be the last time the group disagrees with House leadership. According to Mulvaney, the debt ceiling bill coming from the "Super Committee" next month has more spending than the budget proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. "You'll see us push against it," Mulvaney said.
On a personal level, the debt ceiling debate only served to bring the South Carolina freshmen closer together.
"We're friends," Duncan said. "We all supported each other when that was happening."
Each rep is quick to praise the other three. As an example of the support that Duncan alluded to, Gowdy recounted an instance where Mulvaney traveled to the Lowcountry to meet Scott's constituents and explain to them why Scott's vote on a certain bill was completely plausible.
Mulvaney did this even though he disagreed with Scott on the issue in question.
Though none of the four dissuades associations with the Tea Party, they prefer to use the term True Conservatism when describing their ideology.
They agree on many issues, but Gowdy insisted they don't vote as a bloc.
"There is an awful lot of communication before a vote where we talk about where we stand," he said. "The notion that we always vote the same can be easily disproven."
Where they will most certainly agree is on amending the corporate tax rate. "We have to agree on the rate," Scott said. "And we need to figure out how to close those loopholes."
A by-product of their work on that legislation will be an even stronger sense of camaraderie. "It's not required that we like each other personally," Gowdy said. "But it certainly helps."