The NCGOP’S support for Ted Budd reflects growing extremism on the right.

Published April 28, 2022

By Alexander H. Jones

That the party establishment would unite behind Congressman Ted Budd is quite revealing for North Carolina Republicans. While never a scourge of the big boys on Hillsborough Street, neither was Ted Budd the obvious choice for electability-minded GOP elites. Further, the only Republican governor of North Carolina in the last 30 years, Pat McCrory, was running in the primary. If McCrory cannot command the support of people who were elated when his victory brought them a precious four years of one-party control, something very radical has transformed the NCGOP.

It is true that by the end of his term, North Carolina Republicans had come to dismiss McCrory as ineffectual and politically unimpressive. He did, after all, blaze a trail to hell as the first elected incumbent to lose a gubernatorial election in the state. But early on in the 2022 primary race, signals emerged that McCrory had mended fences with the panjandrums and would enter the race as the preferred contender of GOP elites. Consummate establishmentarian Paul Shumaker quickly singed on to guide McCrory’s effort and Richard Burr endorsed McCrory. While Pat McCrory may never have been Raleigh Republicans’ dream candidate, he did, at least, seem acceptable to them.

This rapprochement between McCrory and contemptuous establishment GOPers lasted only as long as his victory seemed inevitable. That assessment changed fundamentally when Donald Trump publicly insulted and humiliated McCrory by awarding the Team Orange’s imprimatur to Ted Budd’s insurgency. Republicans shifted their evaluations of each candidate’s potential, with Budd skyrocketing in the eyes of prognositcators and McCrory falling back into infamy. This switch from McCrory to Budd did not only take place among the most conservative Republicans. Instead, 26 high-powered legislators and Congressman George Holding wasted no time in endorsing the right-wing congressman. Later, Senator Phil Berger–the most powerful Republican in the state for a decade running–joined his colleagues in announcing support for Budd.

Despite their similarities, Ted Budd has never been a Ted Cruz or a Josh Hawley. He’s more like a North Carolina version of former Senator Jim DeMint: a conservative extremist well liked by the establishment in spite of his ideological radicalism. This means that establishment Republicans in North Carolina are comfortable with the most extreme elements of the national GOP. Faced with a primary with the only Republican to win the governor’s chair in a generation and a half seeking to control the establishment lane, the NCGOP’s top dogs have chosen instead to support a man who uses monster trucks, barbed-wire fences, rifles, and pistols in his campaign iconography.

North Carolina establishment Republicans have ratified their alliance with the radical right. Where once there was a buffer between Raleigh insiders and the grassroots Jessecrats, now each faction works hand-in-hand to advance their shared mission of repealing the twentieth century. This alignment of forces has served Republicans well over the last decade, with super-high turnout allowing Republicans to stay just ahead of the state’s changing demographics.

The North Carolina Republican Party has become an extremist faction. Jim Holshouser weeps and Jesse Helms smiles.