One on One: Second-guessing Trump

Published 8:45 am Sunday, August 22, 2021

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By D.G. Martin

It is easy to second guess somebody else’s political decisions.

Especially if you are not a big fan of the somebody else.

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So, I should be careful about second-guessing Donald Trump’s endorsement of one candidate in next year’s North Carolina Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination.

The contest to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is a critical one for both parties and could determine which one controls the Senate after the 2022 elections.

Democrats are hungry to take the seat away from the Republicans. Several strong candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination.

Republicans also have an impressive group of candidates, including former Rep. Mark Walker, former governor and Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory and Rep. Ted Budd.

Until the Republican state convention in June, Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, who grew up in Wilmington, was considered a possible candidate.

But when she and the former president attended the convention, she said she would not be running and he announced his support for Budd.

Trump’s endorsement surprised some Republicans, including Sen. Burr, who said, “I can’t tell you what motivates him.”

Before Trump’s endorsement, Walker and McCrory were considered the favorites by many, including Burr, who, at least privately, supported McCrory.

In three campaigns for governor (2008, losing a close election to Bev Perdue; 2012, defeating Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton; and 2016, losing a hair-splitter to Roy Cooper), McCrory proved in each election to be a statewide competitor. Those campaigns and his service as governor give him a network of friendship and support throughout the state. He claims to be conservative, but has sought and gained support from moderates and has distanced himself from Trump.

Walker is more conservative than McCrory. A minister, he confessed concerns about Trump’s personal actions during the 2016 presidential primaries.

Budd is supported by the Trump-allied Club for Growth, which claims “it has already raised $5.125 million to support Rep. Ted Budd’s campaign to become the next Senator from North Carolina. Budd has a 97 percent lifetime rating on Club for Growth Foundation’s Economic Scorecard.”

Support from Trump and Club for Growth do not guarantee a Budd victory in the GOP primary. In last month’s primary for a vacant Texas congressional seat, the Trump/Club for Growth candidate lost to a candidate backed by the former Gov. Rick Perry.

A few weeks later, however, in a crowded primary in Ohio’s 15th congressional district, Trump endorsed Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist, who won a solid victory with 37 percent of the vote. Carey gave Trump full credit and asserted that “President Donald J. Trump is, without a doubt, the leader of our party.”

Thus, although Trump’s endorsement does not make certain a Budd primary victory, it gives him a much better chance than he would have had otherwise.

And a victory would underline Trump’s power over North Carolina politics.

That could be a problem for Trump and the party.

If Budd wins the primary, McCrory and Walker will probably salute and announce their support for Budd.

But a host of their supporters will resent Trump’s interference and his takeover of their Republican party. Trump’s party is not the same Republican Party they joined.

Some may simply vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election. Others, unwilling to support a Democratic nominee, might simply stay at home on election day. Some might leave the party, unable to accept Trump’s control.

Thus, a Trump-Budd victory in the primary could strike a damning blow to the state’s Republican party by driving away Trump skeptics, such as former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, who cannot abide Trump’s egoism, dishonesty and reckless personal ambition.

In a close election, their actions could make the difference and assure the election of a Democrat to the Senate in the fall election.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sundays at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on PBS North Carolina (formerly UNC-TV). The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and other times.