Odd though it now seems, Congressman Mark Walker once appeared to be a savvy politician. He was a former preacher and strong social conservative who presumably could attract the support of North Carolina’s many white evangelical Christians, but, at the same time, he reached out to African American communities and championed the cause of HBCU’s. At the beginning of his Senate campaign, he expressed pride in having been the only Republican in recent memory to deliver a commencement address at a historically Black college. He was, in his words, both a “conservative champion” and a “bridge builder.”
That all sounds good, and he has thrown it all out the window. Now, struggling in a primary against better-known and better-funded opponents, he has embraced MAGA populism to the hilt. Walker sends out histrionic tweets in which he rants about President Biden’s “unhinged” inflation and literally attacks the Voting Rights Act. On social media and on the campaign trail, he is much more of a bridge-burning rhetorical pyromaniac than the constructor of goodwill with diverse communities. He’s a MAGA-head now. He wants to win this Senate race through the means of populism, opportunism, and the exploitation of a bigoted GOP base’s many cultural prejudices.
Little provides greater testimony to Mark Walker’s transformation than the people with whom he has associated his campaign. Again and again on social media and in the MSM, Walker appears with Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. This is understandable, from an entirely cynical perspective. After all, Mark Robinson is by far the most popular Republican in the state among conservative base voters. But Robinson is also an inarguable hatemonger and purveyor of contempt toward oppressed people, particular those who are LGBTQ. Robinson is toxic to people on the other side of Walker’s political bridge, and with good reason. The lieutenant governor has built his political career on unfiltered, uncut hatred; this is the man Walker hopes to partner with in his forlorn quest for the Republican Senate nomination.
Walker seems to have calculated that only a hate-adjacent populist has any chance of overcoming his disadvantages in the areas of name recognition, financing, and national support. His opponents, after all, are far better funded and supported by distinct wings of the Republican-Party firmament. By contrast, Mark Walker is marooned on a political desert island with neither the backing of well heeled donors nor institutional support from such pillars of the GOP as Donald Trump or Karl Rove, each of whom has endorsed either Ted Budd or Pat McCrory, respectively. Walker’s chameleon routine reflects a desperate politician who is willing to abrogate much of his previous political identity in order to hang on in a primary that he has little chance of winning.
So. Mark Walker, once a reasonable and thoughtful conservative, has reinvented himself along the worst lines of fundamentalist-Christian reaction. He is hyperpartisan, all but chanting “Let’s Go Brandon” as he appeals to the GOP base, and he is presenting himself as equally comfortable with political hatred and the right-wing politicians who purvey that toxicity. Anyone who embraces such a poisonous figure as Mark Robinson will receive the contempt of tolerant North Carolinians. Congratulations, Mr. Walker. You’ve earned it.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.