State Treasurer Dale Falwell announced he’s running for governor, setting up a Republican primary with Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. In real terms, it’s a race between the reactionary populist GOP of Donald Trump and the Reagan Republicans that dominated the party from 1980 until 2016. The primary should get national attention as the current GOP civil war plays out in real-time in North Carolina.
Falwell is a traditional conservative who has run the Treasurer’s office with little ideological fanfare. He’s certainly made a few waves for things like implementing new approaches to managing the state’s portfolio and changing the state’s health care provider, but those ideas are less about ideology and more about government business practices. He’s no culture warrior despite some anti-LGBTQ stands in the past. He will be the candidate of the conservatives who care more about cutting taxes, regulations, and the size of government than fighting culture wars.
His opponent, Robinson, is taking exactly the opposite approach. Robinson has no experience or accomplishments. He’s basing his campaign on his ability to bash people who are different than him. He’s openly and fiercely attacking the LGBTQ community. He’s voiced anti-Semitic views. And he’s done it under the banner of Christian nationalism. He’s courting controversy instead of unity. Robinson will do all he can to make the primary about the most extreme and divisive positions of the Trump GOP.
Right now, Robinson is the favorite. The party Folwell wants to lead might not even exist. The GOP base in North Carolina is animated by attacks on gay and trans people. They’re more concerned about banning Critical Race Theory than their own economic well-being. Robinson is playing to those fears and hopes that the race is about owning the libs. Folwell wants it to be about what he sees as good government. I think Robinson’s got the advantage.
Ten years ago, a similar primary played out in the state. Back then, Thom Tillis was working to leverage his position as Speaker of the House to become the GOP nominee for US Senate in a seat held by Democrat Kay Hagan. Tillis represented what were then mainstream Republicans of the Reagan era. He was challenged by Greg Bannon from the libertarian wing of the party and Mark Harris from the evangelical wing. Tillis proved that that traditional Republicans were still dominant in the state, winning 45% of the primary vote.
The GOP electorate today is very different. Trump has forever changed the party’s attitude and priorities. Now, the GOP is all about grievance and revenge. Everybody is out to get them and they’ve got to stop changing cultural norms. They’ve pushed back the clock on the abortion debate with the help of the Supreme Court. Now, they want to strip the rights of LGBTQ citizens—the people Robinson considers “filth.”
I suspect that Robinson wins the primary handily, especially if the primary has Trump on the ballot. Traditional Republicans may be making their last stand with Folwell. They are hoping for a Tillis-like outcome, but that doesn’t seem likely in today’s GOP. Folwell is not angry or bigoted enough for the GOP. Expect him to adopt some ugly positions in an attempt to peel off some of the reactionaries, but they’ll see through him. They want the real deal, a fire breathing bigot to champion their cause of a Christian nation.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >
Not to take anything away from Mark Robinson’s well earned homophobic and transphobic bona fides, but he also hates women.
“We are called on to be led by men.”
“God sent women out … when they had to do their thing, but when it was time to face down Goliath, [he] sent David. Not Davida — David”
Robinson has called for a full ban on abortion care with no exceptions.