As I’ve written before, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson bears some resemblance to former Senator Jesse Helms. Most importantly, both men built their electoral appeal on invocations of hate. They are not, however, identical. Where Helms packaged majoritarian animosity with a strict conservative creed, Robinson seldom invokes limited government, a hawkish foreign policy, or the other elements of movement conservatism that solidified Helms’s status as a right-wing ideologue. In this ideological emptiness, Robinson represents well the new nature of conservatism in North Carolina.
See the broadsides John Locke Foundation commentators have volleyed at Robinson’s fellow right-wing populist, Congressman Madison Cawthorn. Last week, Carolina Journal reporter and former NCGOP enforcer Dallas Woodhouse published what could only be described as a hatchet job aimed squarely at Cawthorn’s political viability. Less surprising, but perhaps more striking given Hood’s influence, John Locke Foundation founder John Hood unloaded on Cawthorn this morning. Hood described Cawthorn as “callow” and “appallingly ignorant”–accurate charges that throw into question the patience N.C.’s elite ideologues have for this uneducated authoritarian.
Clearly, the North Carolina conservative intelligentsia has launched a counterattack on the right-wing populists. For the last decade, a stringent brand of conservative orthodoxy has reigned over North Carolina state government. But ideologues like Phil Berger, who was said to quiz his staff on Austrian economics, have given way in the public arena to carnival barkers who care little for the intricacies of the conservative creed. In place of right-leaning verities, the conservative base in North Carolina is getting what it always wanted. Hate.
Many progressives long believed that the Republican endeavor was essentially a bait and switch. Establishment conservatives, so the argument went, exploited the bigotry of right-wing voters to attain elected office, then discarded social conservatism in favor of tax cuts and deregulation. This dynamic has been more complicated in North Carolina state government since 2010: in addition to rhetoric, conservative panjandrums have delivered hate-state policies to their base in occasionally successful efforts to keep the base engaged. But at the core of state government still was austerity, tax aversion, and limited government.
Now the dam has broken, and the deluge is here. Conservative voters have demanded and gotten exactly what they’ve sought from the Republican Party since they (or their parents or grandparents) abandoned the Democrats in protest over desegregation. The most prominent NCGOP politicians, led by Cawthorn and Robinson, are serving the masses xenophobia and homophobia and the full gamut of social animosities that brought these people into the GOP after generations of Solid-South Democratic loyalty. The true believers are losing what they built. The demagogues have purloined the reins.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.