Republicans couldn't stop Mark Robinson

Published June 6, 2024

By Alexander H. Jones

One question that has haunted establishment Republicans for years is whether their extremist candidates could have been stopped. Nominees like Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Kari Lake of Arizona defeated more electable, business-minded candidates who likely would have carried their states. More often than not, the success of these MAGA pyromaniacs was inevitable. In the case of North Carolina’s Mark Robinson, that fatalism is fully justified.

The political risk that Mark Robinson poses to Republicans in our state has been well documented. The uncertainty over whether he would ever be held to account for his Everest-sized heap of inflammatory behavior appears likely to be settled in favor of a severe political punishment. The man and his wife are under investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services for fleecing the state’s welfare programs, and Democrat Josh Stein has opened a lead in the polls for November’s gubernatorial race. The clear trend in this race is one of Mark Robinson losing centrist support and falling behind Stein.

This bravado has now given way to a grand “Gulp.” The continuous stream of Robinson-ian controversies is hastening to a powerful current. Many establishment Republicans are having second thoughts. But the rise of this toxic maniac draws from a current of energy that the GOP created years ago, when they were first building their legislative majority. In those years, Republicans followed what I have called the “Red-State Formula”: They used aggressive social appeals to meld their base into a reliable army and, always with the help of gerrymandered maps, used the resulting electoral victories to reward their donors with a tax-cut agenda. It worked handsomely for 13 years, but the deal they made with the red-state devil is now delivering a stiff dose of punishment. With their base radicalized, there was never a serious chance that Mark Robinson would lose a primary to staid, establishment rivals.

In fact, a few of the more responsible Republicans in North Carolina did attempt to stop Robinson. Moderate consultant Paul Shumaker publicized memos arguing that Mark Robinson was unelectable with the mainstream electorate. Shumaker served as chief consultant for Robinson’s best-funded rival, Bill Graham. And in an even more striking move, the state’s senior Republican Sen. Thom Tillis condemned Robinson, rebuking the demagogue’s venom by saying “the feeling is mutual.” All of it was futile. Tillis’ contempt for Robinson is well-known in establishment circles, but even if more leaders had had the senator’s clairvoyance, the Greensboro bomber would still have led the GOP ticket in 2024. As it is, don’t be surprised when Robinson challenges Tillis himself in a Republican primary in 2026 — and defeats him.

Alexander H. Jones is a policy analyst with Carolina Forward in Carrboro