Who is North Carolina’s Mark Robinson, the off-the-rails Republican nominee for governor?

Robinson has denied the Holocaust, opposed women’s suffrage, threatened to use his AR-15 against the government, and more.

A large Black man in a suit and tie stands onstage with his arms raised while speaking to the audience.

Mark Robinson, lieutenant governor of North Carolina, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 22, 2024.  Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg via Getty Images Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

The Republican Party under Donald Trump has habitually elevated extreme right-wing candidates who can’t find enough support outside of hardcore partisans to win elections. But Mark Robinson, who won the GOP nomination for governor of North Carolina Tuesday night, is a special case even by the modern GOP’s standards.

Robinson, North Carolina’s current lieutenant governor, has hurled hateful remarks at everyone from Michelle Obama to the survivors of the Parkland school shooting. He’s called the LGBTQ community “filth.” He threatened to use his AR-15 against the government if it “gets too big for its britches,” and he wants to outlaw all abortions as well as return to a time when women couldn’t vote. He’s also ridiculed the Me Too movement, women generally, and climate change.

It seems Robinson is willing to entertain all manner of conspiracy theories, too. He’s a Holocaust denier and has a history of antisemitic remarks. He’s suggested that the 1969 moon landing might have been fake, that 9/11 was an “inside job,” that the music industry is run by Satan, and that billionaire Democratic donor George Soros orchestrated the Boko Haram kidnappings of school girls in 2014.

But in spite of all of this, Robinson has not only been able to win his party’s nomination for the state’s most powerful position, but he did so by a margin of more than 45 percent over his rivals. The other Republican candidates, trial lawyer Bill Graham and state treasurer Dale Folwell, raised concerns about Robinson’s electability, but ultimately neither could compete with his name recognition nor his MAGA bona fides in a state that twice voted for Trump. Even the endorsement of US Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican who has at times distanced himself from Trump, didn’t move the needle for Graham in his race against Robinson.

Robinson’s nomination suggests that GOP primary voters have no interest in kowtowing to electability concerns in a battleground state that is narrowly split by party affiliation. This fall, Robinson will face Democratic nominee Josh Stein, the current North Carolina attorney general.

“[Robinson’s] views are inconsistent with mainstream voters,” said Paul Shumaker, a GOP strategist based in North Carolina who has advised Tillis. “General elections are won in the middle in [North Carolina] and he will not be able to capture that group. I expect him to be an island to himself by the time November rolls around.”

Robinson is extreme even for MAGA

North Carolina has seen a politician like Robinson before: Jesse Helms, the deceased former Republican senator and culture warrior before the term existed, whose deeply conservative beliefs put him outside of the broader American mainstream. Helms was known for his staunch opposition to civil rights initiatives — including the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and affirmative action policies — as well as abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and international aid programs, which he maligned during his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as “pouring money down foreign rat holes.”

Former US Rep. David Price (R-NC) told Vox that Robinson is “reminiscent of Helms at his worst.”

It’s notable that Robinson has managed to clinch the Republican nomination in the governor’s race, where voters tend to favor candidates who are “less ideological and more pragmatic,” Price said. He said that’s arguably why current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is term-limited, has succeeded in North Carolina.

Cooper’s predecessor, Republican Pat McCrory, was known for pushing the state’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which prohibited trans people from using bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity, and that policy may have cost him a second term after the cultural and business backlash that the state faced.

But Robinson goes far beyond McRory in capitulating to the extreme right wing of the party, Price said.

“For Mark Robinson to be running a cultural wars race for governor is especially unusual. And I don’t believe it’ll be looked on well by most voters,” he said.

What this means for the 2024 election in North Carolina

Democrats are hoping to capitalize on Robinson’s extremism, much as they did in 2022 when they defeated a slate of extreme right-wing candidates across the country.

Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist based in North Carolina who is advising the Stein campaign, acknowledged that it will likely be a tough election given how closely divided the state is between the two parties. An influx of people moving to the state’s urban centers over the past few decades has made North Carolina more competitive for Democrats, but the state’s large share of rural, Republican voters has tempered the effects of that demographic change. “A blowout in North Carolina is three points,” Jackson said.

But he said Robinson is “so out of the mainstream with North Carolina values and voters that he certainly presents a lot of opportunities for us as Democrats and specifically for us as the Stein campaign to show a very different vision and a future for North Carolina.” He argued that the voters who are likely to swing the election aren’t interested in engaging in culture wars and chasing conspiracy theories, but rather in issues such as jobs, education, and keeping communities safe.

In that sense, Robinson might function as an ideal foil for Democrats — not just in the governor’s race, but also in the presidential and down-ballot races. And Robinson could also struggle to capture the more than 35 percent of GOP voters who opposed him in a contentious primary.

“Robinson becomes the poster child for political craziness,” Price said.

At the same time, Christopher Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University, warned Democrats about celebrating prematurely. Republican candidates have won three presidential elections in North Carolina since Barack Obama surprisingly took the state in 2008 — including Donald Trump twice. The state has stayed on the red side of purple, though Cooper’s two election wins have added to the belief that the state may be shifting Democrats’ way.

“In some ways, [Robinson] might be more beatable than Dale Folwell, or perhaps Bill Graham, but there’s a very real possibility that he’s the next governor of the state of North Carolina,” he said. “And if the Democrats think he is as dangerous as they seem to believe, they should not be rejoicing.”

Sourse: vox.com

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