He’s wasting his time. The state political rumor mill has been churning out scuttlebutt about Treasurer Dale Folwell’s well-honed ambitions to be governor of North Carolina. It can’t come as a surprise that this hard-charging hard-liner would seek to bring his brand of extreme conservatism to the grand rambler on Blount Street. Folwell has, after all, been pursuing this dream since long before he became the first Republican Treasurer in generations. But the gratifying truth is that this libertarian zealot will almost certainly never get to impose a vision of minimal government, one perhaps even more purist than the dogma purveyed by Senator Phil Berger, onto a state that can hardly sustain more attacks on its public architecture.
This crusader seems unsatisfied with turning a traditionally staid office into a cudgel for his war against government. He wants, instead, to be the top dog in the Blount-street doghouse. But this ambitious man and his disregard for the life-security of state employees will face one big, looming obstacle in his quest to be governor: One Robinson, Mark, R-Extremist. In his blinding ambition, Folwell has seemed not to calculate just how formidably the lieutenant governor overshadows nearly every Republican on the state political scene. Indeed, Carolina Forward’s polling has found Robinson a laughable 50 points ahead of Folwell.
Folwell has mistaken his imposing stature in Raleigh policy circles for the far more mystical stuff of political appeal. The fact is that across the state, the only people who even know of Folwell’s existence are state employees, whom he is tormenting, and a tiny cohort of intense political junkies, half of whom regard him as a madman. (There is also a small group of liberal policy wonks who should know better but seem to think he’s been a tolerable Treasurer. He has not.)
In contrast to Folwell’s obscurity, Mark Robinson is a bona fide political celebrity. With his hateful antics and nutty diatribes against liberals and the woke agenda, Robinson has turned himself into a C-list national star, while Folwell would not even merit a star on the Walk of Fame that thankfully does not exist on the sidewalks of Jones Street. What Folwell shares in common with Robinson, however, is an expansive set of enemies. The difference here is that Folwell has the wrong ones. The people who revile Mark Robinson tend to LGBTQ rights advocates and the women’s movement: in other words, the people whose renewed subjugation constitutes the prevailing agenda of the evangelical right. Folwell has made bitter enemies of the teaching and state-employee communities, who after his callous decision to switch the State Health Plan to Aetna rightly perceive him as disrupting their lives.
So Folwell has little chance even of winning the Republican primary, for no matter how much control he may exercise over the healthcare of hundreds of thousands he has little power to overcome the immense force of political entertainment that’s made Mark Robinson a star. Let’s say, for the sake of a pointless thought experiment, that Folwell did manage to win the primary. If he were the nominee, he’d likely get within 100,000 votes of winning the election: This is North Carolina. But the final hundred grand would prove elusive. Folwell’s bleak prospects owe to the fact that, for all his rumpled demeanor and uncharismatic personality, he indeed reflects the right-wing archetype that has failed again and again in North Carolina. He’s not a flame-spitting dragon like Jim Gardner, but Folwell’s intense devotion to the cause of slashing government is in line with a long succession of losing Republican nominees. This is something close to an iron rule of North Carolina gubernatorial elections.
Folwell is, in short, on a collision course with a world of embarrassment. He polls only at 5% in CF’s poll (full disclosure: I am a Senior Policy Analyst with Carolina Forward). And anyone who’s cognizant of the towering stature the large gentleman in the LG’s office enjoys in far-right circles, cannot take seriously the idea of a colorless anti-government ideologue outpacing the probabilities and beating Mark Robinson. The people whose healthcare Folwell has relentlessly and obsessively undermined for six long years will enjoy seeing his ambitions turn to dust.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.