Monday, April 15, 2024

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Super Tuesday Spotlight: Mark Robinson’s Surge in North Carolina GOP Primary Under Trump’s Shadow

As Robinson leads in NC governor primary, Democrats aim to use his incendiary antisemitic remarks against him.

Mark Robinson
Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump has been instrumental in setting the stage for Mark Robinson’s rise in North Carolina politics. As the sitting lieutenant governor eyeing the Republican nomination for governor, Robinson’s history of contentious remarks might have once tanked his chances in a broader election. Yet, he’s on track to win the primary handily.

According to political analysts, Robinson’s rise reflects larger shifts in the North Carolina GOP towards candidates aligned with Trump’s brash style rather than traditional Republicans. “If you were trying to design a character for the moment in 2024 politics, you’d be hard pressed to find someone much different than Robinson,” said GOP strategist Jonathan Felts.

Robinson’s inflammatory rhetoric includes calling homosexuality “filth”, making various antisemitic remarks, and arguing that only men should be leaders. Despite this history, Republican voters appear unconcerned, while Robinson’s opponents in the North Carolina Republican Party have warned his extremism could weigh down his chances in November.

While Robinson has dismissed electability concerns, Democrats are eager to use his past statements against him. Groups like the Democratic Governors Association have millions ready to deploy, portraying Robinson as too extreme for independent voters.

Robinson’s likely Democratic opponent, Attorney General Josh Stein, has his own clear path to the nomination and enters the general election with a slight advantage given the state’s tendency to elect Democratic governors. However, some analysts say a potential red wave with Trump heavily targeting North Carolina could lift Robinson to victory.

Mark Robinson embraces much of the former president’s impulsive rhetorical style and willingness to make incendiary comments that are beyond the pale. Meanwhile, Josh Stein represents the Democratic establishment that Trump often rails against. As attorney general, he has challenged multiple Trump administration policies in court.

Both Robinson and Trump face controversies that would likely sink more conventional candidates. But their styles continue to resonate with a modern Republican base that simply does not care about the character of the candidates that they support. A red wave in November could demonstrate that Trump endorsed MAGA candidates can still win in spite of their numerous failures in past elections.

However, if Stein prevails in the purple state, it may show general election voters have their limits, even in places otherwise trending Republican. The race will help gauge if Trumpism can survive Trump, and the 2022 midterms revealed cracks in its armor.

Robinson’s quest for the GOP nomination has seen competition from several notable figures. Dale Folwell, the State Treasurer, was the first to throw his hat in the ring, yet struggled to gather the necessary resources to mount a serious challenge. Mark Walker, a former Representative, briefly joined the fray before opting to pursue a return to Congress. However, the standout among the contenders is Bill Graham, a self-funded attorney who has invested millions into his campaign, and enjoys the support of North Carolina’s senior senator, Thom Tillis.

Graham’s campaign has invested $5.5 million in advertising efforts, marking the most significant advertising push in the race by any party in the state to date. Of this, around $1.2 million has been allocated to negative advertisements targeting Robinson.  

In one of these ads, Graham takes direct aim at Robinson, stating, “Mark Robinson? He suggested the Holocaust wasn’t real. Downplayed the Nazis. Promoted Hitler propaganda.” Unfortunately for Graham, ads like that might actually increase Robinson’s support in the MAGA wing of the Republican Party.

Anticipation is high from both political camps for the November showdown, which will likely feature Robinson and Stein. In a recent ECU poll simulating a general election face-off, both candidates were neck and neck, each garnering 41 percent of the vote.

Mark Robinson’s ascent within North Carolina politics, backed by the fervent MAGA movement and Trump’s enduring influence, epitomizes a pivotal moment in the Republican Party’s evolution. His controversial stances and incendiary remarks, while polarizing, seem to bolster his appeal among a base increasingly drawn to anti-establishment figures.

As he stands on the cusp of securing the GOP nomination for governor, the broader implications of his potential victory loom large. Robinson’s candidacy not only tests the limits of political discourse but also serves as a barometer for Trumpism’s vitality in the post-Trump era.

The upcoming potential electoral showdown will not just decide the state’s gubernatorial seat but also offer critical insights into the American electorate’s appetite for candidates who defy conventional political norms and espouse antisemitic rhetoric. Amidst this backdrop of shifting political tides and ideological battles, North Carolina’s gubernatorial race is set to be a bellwether for the nation’s political future.