How does it feel, North Carolina, knowing that your next U.S. Senator will be partially determined by Madison Cawthorn and Mark Meadows? These two firebrands have the ear of former President Donald Trump, who, with his unquestioned command over the Republican Party, has the power to manipulate the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina to MAGA ends. The first manifestation of their influence surfaced when Trump endorsed Ted Budd in the Senate primary. Now, apparently at the urging of Cawthorn, Trump has talked former Congressman Mark Walker into leaving the Senate race to seek a United States House seat instead.

Reporting indicates that Cawthorn requested this move in order to strengthen the hand of Ted Budd. While as Carolina Journal reporter Dallas Woodhouse notes, there is as yet little hard evidence that Walker vacating his lane in the race will redound to the benefit of Budd rather than McCrory, it does seem like a logical inference. Walker and Budd, after all, have similar profiles. Both are current or former House Members from the Piedmont with more conservative profiles than former Governor Pat McCrory, their rival in the Senate race. Walker supporters would naturally find their way into Budd’s camp.

That’s what Cawthorn thinks, anyway. Cawthorn sees himself as a revolutionary enforcer of doctrine. In his self-conception, he is leading the way to a North Carolina Republican Party bereft of anyone who shows less than complete fealty to Donald Trump and the MAGA cause. That means, of course, that Pat McCrory cannot become the Republican nominee for United States Senate. After all, McCrory criticized the Access Hollywood tape–an unforgivable sin for the religious conservatives who’ve devoted themselves to the cause of a man who cheated on his wife with a pornography actress.

It must be lonely being Pat McCrory. McCrory served a term as the only Republican governor of North Carolina in this century, and he entered the Senate race thinking that there was some residual goodwill among the GOP rank and file for the man who signed HB2, But both wings of the GOP establishment have contempt for him. MAGA warriors have disliked and distrusted him since he was a mayor of Charlotte collaborating with Democrats to build a light-rail system in the city. On the other side, the establishment Republicans who should be his natural allies tend to see him as an idiot and a lightweight. Both cohorts have given substantial support to Ted Budd.

With Walker out of the race, Budd’s path to the nomination is clearer than ever. The main (only?) obstacle he faces is a disadvantage in name recognition, a problem that continued investment by the Club for Growth should alleviate. Polling trends have shown steady gains by Budd at the expense of McCrory, and the God-Emperor of Republican America has forcefully sided against the former governor. For all McCrory’s money and prominence, it may be a pair of populists from the mountains who decide the Republican nominee for United States Senate.

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