Donald Trump sure does love to make news. Giving his first public speech since ignominiously exiting the national stage in January, the former president electrified North Carolina politics. He endorsed Ted Budd in the state’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, dissing Pat McCrory and giving rocket fuel to the candidacy of a congressman who had heretofore been largely anonymous. It will upend the entire race.
The disrespect former President Trump showed to the state’s ex-governor was extraordinary. Standing at a lectern across from where Pat McCrory was sitting in the very same room, Trump endorsed a rival and even took shots at McCrory’s political skills. “You can’t pick people that have already lost two races and do not stand for our values,” Trump said, no doubt channeling his former chief of staff Mark Meadows. In response, McCrory groveled. The ex-governor sent out a press release stunning in its lack of self-respect, single-mindedly focusing on his own loyalty to the man who had just trashed him in front of his own party.
This was only the latest instance of contempt Trump has shown toward McCrory. But in contrast to the disaster that befell McCrory, Ted Budd had the night of his political dreams. Before Saturday night, Budd was lingering in semi-obscurity, a pol with little name recognition outside the Piedmont who was trailing Pat McCrory by 35 points. Now he is the hottest commodity in MAGA circles, and should be able to leverage Trump’s imprimatur into fundraising and support.
The final major Republican in the race, former Congressman Mark Walker, finds himself on something of a desert island. Having been polling above Ted Budd, he now has neither the Trump endorsement of his ex-colleague nor McCrory’s name recognition. Also, his fundraising was deeply unimpressive in the first quarter. Though he continues to build a network of evangelical preachers across the state, Walker should take note of Dan Forest’s campaign, where a similar on-the-ground network of religious fundamentalists translated into absolutely nothing come election time. But for McCrory’s disastrous treatment by Trump, the Budd endorsement’s impact on Walker would have been the most damaging fate to befall any candidate.
The race is now thoroughly shaken up. Due to his name recognition, McCrory remains very much in the game. But Ted Budd now has received an invaluable boost from the former President. McCrory is degraded and weakened while Budd is on track to becoming the frontrunner. Mark Walker has fallen in a deep hole with neither wide recognition nor the support of the Republican Party’s boss and Sun King. Ironically, Walker had been a Trump favorite in previous years.
It is dubious to draw firm conclusions about how last weekend will impact the general election. But Jeff Jackson and Cheri Beasly can only be pleased by this development. The Republican Party now faces a clear split. On the one side stands a well known but widely distrusted former governor who has endured a searing slap in the face. Trump’s pick, Budd, has an extreme profile and a flamboyance that will play poorly in the state’s white-collar suburbs. Meanwhile, the strongest Republican candidate, Mark Walker, finds himself high and dry. Donald Trump’s behavior last weekend put North Carolina Democrats in a better position to win a U.S. Senate race for the first time since 2008.
Edit: Readers have pointed out that Trump-endorsed candidates have lost primaries during the Trump era. The post has been updated to reflect that fact. We apologize for the error.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.