Mark Robinson and the neo-Confederate vote

Published April 25, 2024

By Thomas Mills

The Daily Haymaker has been tracking Mark Robinson for years. The conservative anti-establishment blog opposed his run for governor and has criticized his family business for sucking on the government teat. Last week, Robinson’s wife announced she would be shutting down the business after audits showed irregularities in reporting and handling money. Yesterday, Haymaker editor Brant Clifton wrote that the company, Balanced Nutrition, has only paid payroll taxes once in the past six years.

Robinson and his wife have a pattern of failing to pay taxes and fiscal irresponsibility that goes back decades. They were evicted for failing to pay rent. They declared bankruptcy three times. They failed to file income taxes for five years running. They failed to pay property tax in Guilford County. Now, it appears they didn’t pay payroll taxes for their beleaguered businesses. Failing to pay taxes once can be a serious political liability, but failing to pay them over and over is usually a career killer.

All of that said, one of the most revealing aspects of Clifton’s report comes from the comment section in an article written last week. Former state house member Larry Pittman posted a comment that read, “I told people that voting for Mark Robinson in the primary would be a big mistake. I asked them to vote for Dale Folwell. It looks like I am being proven right.”

For those of you who don’t remember Pittman, he was the Republicans’ leading neo-Confederate in the state legislature. He unabashedly defends the South’s secession, compares Lincoln to Hitler, and says the 16th President was a “traitor.” His disdain for Robinson might have roots deeper than just the corruption. His views may reflect those of another commenter who agreed with Pittman, writing, “Robinson is all talk, and it’s clear to me that he’s just another hustler from THAT part of the tracks, if you catch my drift.” I do get his drift and his sentiments are far more common in the GOP than the party is willing to admit.

Last summer, I spoke to lobbyists who told me that Republican legislators were almost giddy about the prospect of a Robinson gubernatorial run. They were all but positive he would defeat Josh Stein. By their reckoning, Robinson would siphon off tens of thousands of Black votes because African Americans would choose a Black candidate over a white one.

This logic is coming from the people who are attacking diversity efforts because they say we live in a colorblind society. They clearly lack the introspection to see how their thinking is racist. Prejudice runs deep in our Southern psyche and travels along the same neural pathways as denialism and self-interest while blocking those of empathy and self-awareness.

The vast majority of African American voters are going to vote their self-interest and support Democrats. They are going to vote for the party that supports public education and access to the ballot box. They are going to vote against the party that is trying to deny the discrimination that they have lived while making voting more difficult and ignoring 400 hundred years of state-sponsored White Supremacy that only ended about 50 years ago. They see through Robinson’s grifting ways as well as anybody.

Republicans did not consider the neo-Confederate vote. While their establishment is loath to admit it, the GOP has won elections in this state by keeping the racist wing of their party engaged. A substantial part of the Republican base is not going to vote for a Black man. They’ve bought into the stereotypes that have been perpetrated since the first enslaved Africans were brought to this continent. They believe they are inherently lazy and shifty. Remember, these are the people who believe Fox News, Donald Trump, and televangelists. The gray matter is thin.

Race is still a powerful force in our politics, but it’s more complicated than whites voting for whites and Blacks voting for Blacks. African Americans want results as much as they want representation. They’ve seen that this country will elect a Black man to the highest office in the land and then re-elect him. Now, they want politicians who substantively address the inequalities that that they still face like drastically higher infant and maternal mortality rates, higher incarceration rates, and the racial wage gap. They will support white politicians who deliver and reject Black ones who won’t. Robinson clearly falls into the latter category.

Robinson’s problems are so many and so deep, he can alienate just about every faction of the electorate. He’s a Republican which disqualifies him with almost all of the traditional Democratic base. He’s embraced extremism that turns off the moderate voters in the state. He’s posted antisemitic tropes that repulse the Jewish community and their supporters. He’s called gay people “filth,” leaving little room for support from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. And, finally, he’s Black, which costs him the support of the neo-Confederate wing of the Republican Party.