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When then-President Donald Trump appeared at a July 2019 rally in Greenville, the event was noted for his supporters responding to Trump’s criticism of Somalia-born Rep. Ilhan Omar by disgracefully chanting: “Send her back.”
This week, after the now former president appeared at the state Republican Convention in Greenville on Saturday, more than a few participants are likely moaning to themselves, “Why did we let him come?”
Such is life in the upside-down world of rallying around a former president who lost but won’t accept it. Trump supporters think they’ll get a lift by embracing an anchor and tossing overboard every Republican who disagrees.
Party leaders welcomed Trump for perhaps his highest-profile appearances since leaving the White House after being defeated by more than 7 million votes. He showed his appreciation by droning on for about 90 minutes, speaking mostly about himself and how he thinks he has been unfairly treated and underappreciated.
But, for good measure, he made news in a Trumpian way by walking into the event and effectively flipping over the political tables of his North Carolina Republican hosts. Trump created chaos in the Republican race for the 2022 U.S. Senate nomination by using the occasion to endorse the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, arguably the least likely of the top three GOP Senate candidates to be able to win a statewide race.
The other top candidates, former Gov. Pat McCrory, the leader in early polls, and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, the winner of a straw poll at the convention, were blindsided by Trump’s clumsy breaking of President Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
But Trump has done it so many times it should have been no surprise. In fact, sabotaging the campaigns of Republicans Trump feels have slighted him is his mission going into the 2022 primaries. He did it Saturday, taking a jab at McCrory, who won the governor’s race in 2012, but lost his first gubernatorial bid in 2008 and his run for reelection in 2016. Trump said, “You can’t pick people that have already lost two races and do not stand for our values.”
Walker and McCrory pointed to Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina congressman and Trump’s former chief of staff, for pushing Trump to give his blessing to Budd. Meadows, who has reinforced Trump’s delusion about a stolen election, may have tipped the balance in Budd’s favor, but it was Trump who is responsible for the damage.
Despite his two losses, McCrory is the strongest candidate the Republicans have to replace retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr. McCrory has a political base in Charlotte, where he served 14 years as mayor. He has the most name recognition and his sin against Trump – less than automatic support for every Trump utterance and action – would appeal to independents in a statewide race.
Walker is deeply conservative and a solid Trump supporter, but he may have more appeal in a general election than Budd, a gun shop owner who opened his campaign with a monster truck video that showed his commitment to being “a liberal agenda crusher.”
Democrats are delighted by Trump’s crashing the Republican Party.
Whether the race will now get worse for Republicans depends on your political view. But it certainly is going to get more interesting. North Carolina Republicans still have time to realize that Trump lost and demanding that the party’s Senate nominee blindly follow the former president will lead to the same result.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@ newsobserver.com