This Will Not End Well for North Carolina Republicans

This Will Not End Well for North Carolina Republicans

US President Donald Trump, with daughter-in-law Lara Trump, arrives at Wilmington International Airport in Wilmington, North Carolina on September 2, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

By Billy Ball

February 17, 2021

The state party has to rebuke Trump. Or go the way of the dinosaur.

Sometimes truth can come from the strangest of places.

This time it was Lindsey Graham, the jittery Trump confidant from South Carolina who spoke to Fox News Sunday morning about Sen. Richard Burr’s impeachment vote and made the case for oblivion.

“The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump,” said an exhausted-looking Graham. “My dear friend Richard Burr, who I like and I’ve been friends to for a long time, just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina. … I certainly will be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican party.” 

Graham, normally the overeager Pomeranian, sounded like a man whose inner dog had just died. 

The South Carolina senator isn’t a particularly credible man. In 2015, Graham told then-candidate Trump to “go to hell.” On Sunday, he told Fox’s Chris Wallace that “Trump-plus is the way back in 2022.” 

So forget his words. Look at the man’s face. Graham, a particularly emotive sort in the GOP caucus, looks like he’s reading a eulogy. 

And while Sen. Graham doesn’t vote in North Carolina, he’s right about one thing. After the NC GOP leadership voted unanimously Monday to censure Burr for his ‘guilty’ vote, Lara Trump, and the Trump brand, is the future of the Republican Party in North Carolina. 

Heaven help us. 

But that future is grim indeed. They may crow today. But down that way lies doom for the NC Republican Party. 

‘A sad day for North Carolina Republicans’

Burr said it most efficiently after Monday’s scolding by NC Republicans, a symbolic vote with no actual implications for the retiring senator. 

“It is truly a sad day for North Carolina Republicans,” he said in an unusually pointed statement. “My party’s leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party and the founders of our great nation.”

The two-term senator, who spent a decade in Congress before that, is no maverick. He’s not the type to pop off near a microphone. But he was among a select group on the powerful Senate intelligence committee who over the last four years heard more than we’ll probably ever know about the inner workings of the Trump administration both in the US and abroad.

Indeed, Burr, who chaired the committee until last year, led an interminable three-year investigation into Russian manipulation of the 2016 election to benefit an all-too-eager Trump campaign. Regardless of his votes for the Trump agenda during this, what appears to be his final term, those investigations surely impacted Burr’s view of the former president.

And while Burr is no saint — his 2020 pre-pandemic stock dump reeks — the career Republican politician sees with clarity on this one point. The end is nigh for NC Republicans should they remain servile to a twice-impeached president with a turbulent legal road ahead

Stripped of his presidential immunity from prosecution, Trump might be forced to defend himself in civil and criminal court for his alleged role in the Stormy Daniels coverup and for his business practices, not to mention defamation lawsuits from two women who say Trump sexually assaulted them. 

And if hindsight is 20-20, Trump’s single presidential term will only grow uglier as the days pass. It’s already a Jackson Pollock painting.  

These troubles won’t matter to Trump’s most loyal dissidents, those who are unhinged enough to storm the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes. But it will to the independents, first-time voters and reluctant conservatives who pushed Trump over the top in 2016. 

The road to election does not get easier for Trump and his ilk in 2024 in an increasingly diverse country and state, even if the usual midterm plunge in progressive voters in two years carves a path for Republicans in NC. 

Judging by the NC GOP’s vote to chasten an unchastened Burr this week, Republican leadership spies that cynical path. 

“The (former) president will have the ability to help excite the base and turn voters out,” NC GOP Chairman Michael Whatley told the Associated Press this week. 

Whatley, on brand, left out the “former” in Trump’s title. It speaks volumes. 

Making Sense of the Senseless

The GOP’s optimism in a MAGA revival is not irrational in a state like NC. After a decade of deeply polarizing leadership in the state legislature, the party emerged the majority again in the 2020 election thanks to a robust turnout of Trump voters. 

Statewide the GOP may lose to moderate Democrats like Gov. Roy Cooper, but Trump still enjoys broad support in NC’s red, rural counties. And Trump-aligned candidates will thrive in the gerrymandered state and congressional legislative districts that produce ideological wunderkinds like Madison Cawthorn.

Trump’s daughter-in-law, a former television producer from Wilmington who pals with extremists, might even win in 2022. Expect more gerrymandering after the updated US Census figures are released this year. And look for an aggressive push to roll back the pandemic voting expansions that contributed to NC’s surge in 2020 turnout. 

For this party—which ruthlessly gerrymandered voting districts and suppressed voters of color through the 2010s—the ends always justify the means. This isn’t about moral clarity. It’s about power. 

But it is a short-term strategy. And NC Republicans pursuing this dark road should know that the  bill for the party’s full tilt into Trumpism, into extreme right-wing demagoguery, will come due if it hasn’t already.

As The NY Times reported last week, thousands of NC Republicans have been leaving the party since the Capitol riot. That was before most Republican senators, including Sen. Thom Tillis, voted to absolve the man who incited an attempted coup in DC and risked their very lives. 

“I can’t wait to leave the GOP. Paperwork to be filed next week,” former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr wrote on Twitter this weekend as the party prepared to censure Burr.

Orr, a vocal critic of Trump since 2016, is an obvious loss for the party. But it’s the departure of the lower-profile Republicans and independents—those without Twitter accounts—who will be more devastating for the party.  

A dissatisfied Republican voter does not guarantee an eager Democratic voter. It requires competency, authenticity, and a genuine will to improve the lives of North Carolinians badly wounded by the pandemic.  

But the history books on Trump and this era of Republican politics are already being written. They will regard the Trump presidency to be the most corrupt and divisive in the history of this country.

And the GOP apologists surrounding the ex-president? A feckless and amoral bunch with a totalitarian fetish. 

It will not end well.  

Demagogues like Trump and their sycophants might flourish in times of instability. But for them it always ends the same.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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