At the state GOP convention in Greenville, Donald Trump's fade to black continues

Published 4:52 p.m. Thursday

By Rob Schofield

He’s baaaack. Well, sort of.

Former President Donald Trump emerged from his self-imposed Florida/New York internal exile this past Saturday evening by delivering a typically rambling and narcissistic speech at the 2021 North Carolina Republican Party convention in Greenville. It was his first such appearance outside of Florida since leaving the White House in January.

The chief political headline from the event surrounded the 2022 GOP primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (whom Trump never mentioned by name). After first allowing his daughter-in-law Lara, a political novice with no evident qualifications, to announce that she would not seek the seat, Trump issued – in what sounded like an offhand and last-minute act of a man known for winging things – an endorsement of Congressman Ted Budd in the already crowded race.

Budd, the owner of gun store and range in Forsyth County has represented the state’s 13th Congressional District since 2017. In a testament to the vagaries of politics, Budd claimed the solidly Republican seat by winning a special, low-turnout (7.8%) primary in June 2016 that featured 17 candidates and no runoff. Budd won that race with just 6,308 votes – or 20% of those cast in the election.

 Congressman Ted Budd

Trump’s endorsement served as a stinging rebuke to two higher profile Republican candidates – former congressman Mark Walker and former Gov. Pat McCrory. Embarrassingly, Trump even issued a direct jab at McCrory — who sniffed around for an administration job without success at the outset of the Trump presidency — by saying “You can’t pick people that have already lost two races. You can’t pick people that have already lost two races and do not stand for our values.”

Ouch.

In response, McCrory expressed his disappointment at Trump’s endorsement of a “Washington insider.”

But as is always the case with a Trump speech, the main story Saturday was the former president himself. During his four years in office, The Washington Post documented 30,573 false or misleading claims that he uttered and on Saturday, Trump clearly saw no reason to break with the pattern.

Throughout his talk, Trump repeatedly made bizarre, outlandish and demonstrably false claims on a wide array of topics.

Topping the list was his renewed lie that the 2020 election (which he called the “crime of the century” and “by far the most corrupt election in the history of our country”) was stolen from him.

Other notable absurdities and outrages:

*   His claim of complete credit for the United States’ middling success in distributing COVID-19 vaccines after he left office: This is a claim made more bizarre, given the widespread  vaccine skepticism among conservatives that he has helped foment, by his remark that the room in which he was speaking “would be empty right now” were it not for the vaccines.
*   His statement that “Republicans must immediately pass legislation to empower every parent in America to opt [their children] out” of public education.
*   On his much-criticized foreign policy that favored cozying up to dictators and criticizing our traditional allies: “Under my administration. America was respected again, totally respected.”
*   On his relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un: “I liked him, he liked me. We got along great.”
*   On his pal Russian President Vladimir Putin: “…there’s never been anybody as tough on Russia than I was.”

And so it went for well over an hour. Indeed, one can stop at just about any random point in the speech transcript and find statements that are not just wrong, but embarrassingly and frighteningly wrong. These statements sound as if they came from the fever dreams of a deeply troubled and even psychotic person – not someone who until recently was the supposed leader of the free world.

Naturally, there was no mention of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the global climate emergency, racism, health care or the nation’s metastasizing wealth and income gaps.

If there was a of silver lining of any kind to be found Saturday, however, it was the generally blasé attitude with which Trump seemed to be greeted by the state’s GOP political establishment. Though loyal lackeys like Budd, and some other members of Congress showed up to kiss the ring, the speech drew little enthusiasm from what CNN described as “a listless audience, many of which had been looking at their phones or yawning as Trump’s speech crept over the hour-long mark.”

This response is in accord with the observation of a local conservative commentator last Friday who expressed “tepid” feelings about Trump’s return, the frustration expressed by many GOP insiders with Trump’s insistence on rehashing the 2020 election, and the debilitating impacts of his banishment from social media.

In short, while Trump remains a formidable force and intensely popular with the right-wing fringe – a group that continues to promote the cockamamie notion that he will somehow be magically reinstated to the presidency this August – Saturday may well have shown that his shtick is starting to wear thin. Perhaps, at long last, for the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, its fling with an inveterate liar and would-be autocrat is winding down.