Yesterday, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson got to play governor. With the real governor, Roy Cooper, out of the country, Robinson declared a day of prayer and week of solidarity with Israel in the wake of the Hamas attacks. The charade was part of an ongoing attempt to make Robinson seem more mainstream. Instead, he just reminded everyone of his right wing bone fides and his history of antisemitism.
Robinson thought he could give North Carolina a preview of his gubernatorial stature with his speech and proclamation. However, the press bombarded him with questions about social media posts he made questioning the Holocaust. Back in 2017 he posted, “I am so sick of seeing and hearing people STILL talk about Nazis and Hitler and how evil and manipulative they were. NEWS FLASH PEOPLE, THE NAZIS (National Socialist) ARE GONE!” He also said the movie Black Panther was created by an “agnostic Jew” and the movie was only made to pull the shekels out of your Schvartze pockets.”
Robinson refused to apologize for the substance of his posts, insisting they were just poorly worded. Jewish organizations have condemned Robinson for his views. While Robinson is now trying to distance himself from his statements, he once said he would not apologize for anything he said before he was elected.
Robinson clearly didn’t check with Cooper before he decided to make his announcement. The governor’s communication director blasted Robinson. Sadie Weiner released a statement saying, “It’s tragically ironic that someone with a long history of hate speech against Jewish people would take advantage of death and destruction in Israel for his own political purposes.”
Robinson’s Republican primary opponent also denounced him. State Treasurer Dale Folwell said in a statement addressed to Robinson, “You were against the Jewish people before you were for them.” He, too, took the lieutenant governor to task for using a tragedy for political advantage.
The episode highlights the difficulty that Robinson faces in casting himself as a serious politician and walking back his extremism. He’s built a career by making inflammatory statements designed to incite the GOP’s right-wing base. He’s demeaned various groups of people besides Jews. The LGBT+ community has been one of his favorite targets calling them trash and insinuating that they are unworthy of God’s love. He’s now pretending to be somebody else and it’s not going over too well.
There’s another pretender in the GOP mix, too. Dan Bishop has been playing to the right-wing base for several years. I’ve never been sure whether he was just pandering or if he really believed the stuff he was spewing. After watching his actions this week, I’ve come to believe that he’s just cynically exploiting the ignorance and hatred of the GOP’s bigot wing.
Bishop makes extremist statements for media attention but usually backs down before he has to do something really stupid. He probably miscalculated when he funded the White Supremacist website, Gab. The competitor to Twitter became a haven for antisemites and racists of all stripes. The Pittsburg synagogue shooter used the site to promote his hate. Bishop has claimed ignorance of the site’s intentions, but that’s pretty disingenuous. Everybody else knew exactly who they were and they weren’t hiding their views.
On matters in Congress, he’s reached for maximum exposure to the GOP’s most extreme and ignorant factions. Bishop featured right-wing favorite, and otherwise parody politician, Lauren Boebert at a fundraiser in his district. In the first fight for Speaker in January, he sided with wing-nuts long enough to get his name in the paper and in headlines. Then, when the voting seemed to be getting close to ending, he abruptly changed directions and sided with Kevin McCarthy to make him speaker.
He’s done it again this time. Bishop sided with the extremist wing of the party on votes to raise the debt ceiling and to shut down government. Both times, he knew that Democrats were going to bail the Republicans out, keeping the government functional and living up to its obligations, but he got headlines and acclaim from the right-wing base for his foolish votes. However, when the government shutdown vote and his irresponsible rhetoric was about to topple the Speaker, he suddenly found his pragmatic streak and voted to save McCarthy, just like in January. This time, though, his rhetoric outpaced his actions and McCarthy went down in flames, exposing the chaos and incompetence of the GOP caucus.
Bishop is a cynic. He knows better than to support the most extreme element of the GOP, but he’s willing to pay lip service in exchange for headlines. He’s embraced Trumpism, which is really performative politics, using hate and bigotry to divide the electorate for political gain. He cares more about his political career than anybody he’s supposed to represent. He spread the Big Lie and voted against certifying the election, knowing that Democrats and a handful of responsible Republicans would keep our democracy functioning. He’s truly the worst kind of politician.
Robinson and Bishop are both pretenders. Robinson knows almost nothing about governing, but he knows how to draw a crowd and grab headlines. He’s probably a real extremist. His writings before he had serious political aspirations indicate a right-winger who spreads hate. His rhetoric since he’s been elected reinforces that image. Now, he’s pretending to be a moderate to make him a more viable candidate for governor. Bishop is a pretender of a different kind. He knows better than to embrace the hate and division of Trumpism and yet he’s exploited it to further his political ambition.
North Carolina’s state motto is Esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem.” Neither Bishop nor Robinson meet that standard. They are performative politicians who illustrate what Donald Trump has done to their party.