If the Ohio primary tells us anything, it’s that Trump is still dominant in the Republican Party. All of his endorsed candidates won their races. If that holds here in North Carolina, we’ll have Ted Budd as the GOP Senate nominee, Madison Cawthorn in the 11th Congressional district, and Bo Hines in whatever district he finally chose. If I were a Republican, I would be embarrassed, but if we’ve learned anything from the Trump years, we learned Republicans have no shame. 

Trump’s dominance in the party lays bare the fact that the so-called Conservative Movement based on principles of liberty, small government, and free-markets wasn’t really a movement at all. It was what so many of us believed all along—a cover for reactionary populism of Jim Crow and was fueled by White nationalism and theocratic evangelicalism. Ronald Reagan may have been the face of party, but the Moral Majority was the engine. 

Sure, there were true believers among the free-marketeers, but they didn’t have the numbers to get elected on their own merit. They were always dependent on resentment politics to get a enough support to reach a majority. And those movement conservatives always denied the racism in their midst because they believed, falsely, that the bigots were a minority in their party. In fact, the opposite was true. 

What’s most surprising, though, is how many of the movement conservatives have abandoned their beliefs for tribalism, making excuses for MAGA and supporting the blatantly White nationalist GOP. North Carolina has always been an epicenter of the balance and it’s now one of the clearest examples of the reactionaries dominating the ideologues and the ideologues surrendering their principles. The NC GOP is MAGA through and through. 

The John Locke Foundation and Civitas were begun by Art Pope as free-market think tanks with a libertarian bent. They built a fierce campaign arm that funded the GOP transformation from a minority to a majority party. Their influence peaked in 2010 and 2012 when they underwrote the elections that captured the legislature and Governor’s Mansion. By 2016, they were on the decline, backing the failed governorship of Pat McCrory and initially opposing Donald Trump.  

Six years later, Civitas and JLF are in control of MAGA tribalists defending everything from the homophobia of Mark Robinson to the anti-vaxxers with a death wish. The new leadership is loath to criticize Trump or take on the Big Lie. They might criticize Madison Cawthorn now that he’s made a clown of himself, but they won’t criticize Dan Bishop who votes exactly like Cawthorn, siding with Russia over Ukraine, praising the crazy Lauren Boebert, and supporting an America First agenda. They’ve evolved from organizations dedicated to promoting liberty and the free-market to campaign operations focused on maintaining power at any cost. 

The primary season is revealing Trump’s continued grip on the GOP and the reality that the party is grounded in nationalism and evangelicalism, not a commitment to liberty or free-markets. His candidates dominated Ohio, including nominee JD Vance who was an anti-Trumper until he read the writing on the wall. In North Carolina, we’ll see next week whether Trump’s control over our GOP is as complete. I suspect it is. 

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