Look out AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. 

Come January, there’s a new Squad in town, when the record number of newly-elected Republican women will be sworn in as members of Congress. While the ballot counting still continues, at this point it is certain that Republican women have doubled their numbers in Congress.

One of these new GOP women is Congresswoman-elect Nancy Mace, the second woman elected to Congress from South Carolina and the first who will actually serve in Washington. The Charleston Post and Courier heralded Mace’s “historic upset victory over [Democratic incumbent] Joe Cunningham a win for GOP women.” Cunningham had flipped the seat from red to blue, but Mace was able to reclaim it with a hard-fought campaign. Mace’s first congressional district runs along the coast and includes Charleston and Hilton Head.

“My life has been a series of second chances and the voters of South Carolina’s 1st District have given me [another one].”

As for the reason for the triumph of the GOP women, Mace says, “We outworked our opponents for sure, 100%, because many of the Republican challengers were outspent by the incumbents. But I think our victories also go to the divisions we’re seeing in our country right now. And a lot of Republicans who didn’t come out to vote in 2018, or maybe they voted for a Democrat for the first time, as in my district, came home. They don’t want to see the kind of division that we’re seeing, the climate we’re seeing right now. They want people to get to work. They want Congress to get to work is what I saw. We had record turnout in this election, not only in my congressional seat, but in seats all across the country. And the number of Republican women, I mean, we doubled our numbers this cycle. And they are fighters. They work hard and they are fighters, and they’re going to be great role models and great women in Congress.”

Undoubtedly The Squad with AOC as its very vocal leader also helped the conservative women. Mace and several other GOP women dubbed themselves The Squad during the election to contrast themselves with the Democratic -left women. “Since AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib were elected to Congress,” said Mace, “the Democrats have taken a sharp left turn towards socialism, and so calling ourselves The Squad was a way for us to show we can be the antidote to the policies they are pushing on Americans.”

Mace’s first reaction to being elected to Congress was to go to the Waffle House in Columbia, S.C., which holds special meaning for her.

Mace’s first reaction to being elected to Congress was to go to the Waffle House in Columbia, S.C., which holds special meaning for her. She was a waitress there in her teens. “I started here, 25 years ago when I dropped out of school at the age of 17,” the Congresswoman-elect told reporters. “I wanted to finish where this all started.” Mace speaks warmly about her experiences—and how they will inform her tenure in Congress. She held down the job at a difficult time of her life. 

“Being a waitress at the Waffle House was hard work,” Mace says, “but I learned about real people. Your customers are every socioeconomic status. Some are people you know. Some come in every night when they get off their shifts and talk about their job, their hardships, their families. It’s about meeting people, getting to know your community. It was a really great experience.

“I learned some tough lessons during some tough times,” Mace continues. “I learned about the value of hard work and opportunity. And my life is a series of second chances. And when you fall down and fail, you can pick yourself back up again and get right back at it and be successful. And everyone has a story. And my story is like the stories of many other people, only they maybe don’t tell it or share it with the public. So, I think it’s really important to share that humility with people that they know where I come from, and that I work hard. Everything I’ve ever achieved I’ve earned.”

Even if you weren’t a regular at the Columbia Waffle House, Mace’s name may ring a bell. Mace was the first female graduate of The Citadel, South Carolina’s esteemed military academy, established in 1842. Her journey to The Citadel had some twists and turns. 

She told her story in a memoir entitled In the Company of Men: A Woman at the Citadel, which was blurbed by novelist Pat Conroy.

Nancy Mace, 42, was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Her father is retired Brigadier General James Emory Mace, one of the most decorated military veterans ever to graduate from The Citadel; her mother is Anne Mace, who taught school. Nancy is one of four. A sister and brother were similarly enrolled in military schools, and graduated from West Point. Nancy’s hometown is Goose Creek, South Carolina, though the family moved frequently because of her father’s military career. The Maces lived in Panama, Alaska, and Chicago. General Mace was an officer in Vietnam.

“I loved politics as a kid,” Nancy told IWF. “Reagan was an icon of mine growing up. My parents used to put on the news every night and I’d see President Reagan giving speeches. I’ve been voting in Republican elections or voting for Republicans since I was 18 years old.”

Nancy’s teen years were not entirely smooth sailing. She suffered in school from undiagnosed attention deficit disorder and felt it was difficult to fit in socially. “No matter where I turned, I felt like an outsider,” she recalled. She was sent to spend a summer in Florida with her older sister, and, when she returned, rumors circulated. She was pregnant, or on drugs, according to the rumor mill. It was a dark time.

It took Mace 25 years to address the one matter that really lay at the heart of much of her turmoil at the time. It was not drugs, or wild behavior. In 2019, Mace publicly announced for the first time that she had been raped at the age of 16. “It took me a long time to say that it wasn’t my fault. That I didn’t cause it. That it happened,” Mace told a reporter. 

She said she told only her mother and a friend at the time. She described the perpetrator as a classmate. The revelation came during a debate in the South Carolina House on a rape bill. Mace, who is against abortion, was arguing in favor of rape and incest exceptions. Mace said that she was also sexually assaulted at the age of 14. 

Mace said that this was the reason she dropped out of high school at the age of 17. “I quit everything, I quit on myself, I also quit on life,” she recalled. Mace did take classes at a tech school and, as noted, worked as a waitress at a Waffle House. She has come to regard the period as a valuable time of her life. 

But it wasn’t high school. The principal of Mace’s high school, a Citadel graduate, urged Mace to get her high school diploma. “He said I had three options: I could go back to high school. And I said no. He said you can sit for your GED, and I heard tests and said, ‘Hell no.’ He said the third option was that I could take classes at night or on weekends, when I wasn’t waiting tables. And that’s what I did. I don’t know where I would be today without that. And a year later, I went to The Citadel.”

In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute could not remain male-only as long as it took taxpayer money. The Citadel decided to act voluntarily. Mace heard an old family friend, a member of The Citadel Board of Visitors, announce the decision on the evening news. Mace had been struggling over what to do next, and, “Suddenly, here was my answer. I could follow in my father’s steps, become a cadet like he was and stand where he stood.” Mace regarded it as a chance to prove herself. 

Many conservatives, recognizing the value of single-sex education and military academies, do not believe public military schools should have to go coed or are even preferable.  Anita Blair, former president of IWF and a member of VMI Board of Governors in 1996, cast a vote against going coed, citing VMI’s “distinctive, attractive niche.” Both schools to this day have relatively small female enrollments—about 11 percent for The Citadel and 13 percent for VMI, according to the US News college rankings. Vice President Mike Pence recently singled-out Mace for a special greeting when he spoke at VMI.

Mace was one of four women who entered The Citadel that year and the first to graduate. She graduated magna cum laude in 1999. She told her story in a memoir entitled In the Company of Men: A Woman at the Citadel, which was blurbed by Pat Conroy, The Citadel’s most famous graduate. Conroy called the book “a wonderful, timeless memoir” and also “a love letter to her college and the best book about The Citadel ever written.” 

When General Mace was named as Commandant of the Corps at The Citadel while Nancy was in her second semester, the harassment picked up because she was “no longer just harassed for being a girl, but also for being my father’s daughter.”  “People think I came to tear down tradition but I didn’t. I went there to become part of it,” she once told a U.K. newspaper. “In the beginning I think I went for my father, but soon it became much more about proving something to myself.”

After The Citadel, Mace earned a master’s degree in journalism and communications from the University of Georgia. She has worked as a communications and technology consultant and currently her private sector job involves residential and commercial real estate. Mace is divorced and has two children ages 10 and 13. In 2013, Mace, popular with the Tea Party, unsuccessfully challenged South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham in the Republican primary. Despite having run against him, she believes that in the last few years Graham has emerged as a “conservative stalwart.”

Mace was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in a special election in 2017 and re-elected to the seat in 2018. In her tenure in the House, Mace has put forth proposals to allow those with concealed carry permits from other states to carry in S.C., and a resolution calling for ICE to be notified if an illegal immigrant attempts to purchase a gun. She also authored a bill to stop using shackles on pregnant women giving birth in prison. It also allowed for an “initial bonding” period of mother and child. This is similar to provisions in the national First Step Act. She is at odds with the Trump administration over one matter: offshore drilling. She doesn’t support it. “We shouldn’t put our shoreline at risk,” she wrote in USA Today.

Mace and several other GOP women briefly dubbed themselves The Squad by way of contrasting themselves with the Democratic -left women.

Mace is the second woman elected to Congress from South Carolina. The first was lecturer and writer Elizabeth Hawley Gasque, who was elected in 1938 to fill the unexpired term of her late husband. Congress was not in session during her brief tenure so she never actually attended as a member.

Upon receiving word of her victory, Mace sounded familiar themes. “It goes to show how with the value of hard work you can make anything possible. My life has been a series of second chances and the voters of South Carolina’s 1st District have given me a chance to show and prove that I will be a compassionate leader, a good listener, an independent thinker,” Mace told The Associated Press.

So, the new Squad may give us a respite from high drama and recriminations, while working towards right of center policies.