North Carolina is on the verge of getting a MAGA governor. Why do we let this happen?

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There’s a type of person who thrives off of angering people online. They are commonly referred to as a “troll,” someone who likes being provocative to get a rise out of netizens who come across the post.

Donald Trump proved in 2016 that being a troll can win you an election and now is proving it can get you a second presidential nomination.

In North Carolina, my home state, there are two trolls on the ballot this year. Trump, whom you've heard of, and another who hopes to one day be just as famous.

There has been a lot of recent coverage of North Carolina Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, now a gubernatorial candidate. Earlier this week, The Washington Post wrote about Robinson’s Facebook posts defending abusers like Harvey Weinstein.

“Harvey Weinstein and the rest of these high profile Hollywood elites were merely sacrificial lambs,” Robinson said in a 2017 Facebook post, after dozens of women came forward to share their stories of Weinstein's sexual abuse. “They have been slaughtered in order to smear the airwaves with talk of ‘sexual harassment’ and how pervasive the culture of ‘toxic masculinity’ is in America.”

I’ve been following Robinson’s rise for years. It isn’t the first time the gubernatorial candidate has made headlines for the outlandish things he says. It also doesn't seem to be affecting his political career.

Mark Robinson's greatest hits of offensive comments

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson campaigns for former President Donald Trump's reelection campaign on March 2, 2024, in Greensboro.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson campaigns for former President Donald Trump's reelection campaign on March 2, 2024, in Greensboro.

In 2021, he caught statewide attention for referring to gay and transgender people as “filth.” A year later, he faced scrutiny for a 2012 Facebook comment where he admitted to paying for an abortion in 1989, despite being staunchly pro-life as a politician. There was a period where his Facebook posts could have constituted a column a week with how controversial they are.

Despite the negative press attention, Robinson has a fighting chance of becoming North Carolina's governor in November. Christopher Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, told me that the odds are almost 50/50.

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“He is good at getting his name out there, and he was able to win the primary, and that in North Carolina gives you about a coin toss chance to win the general,” Cooper said.

With Robinson, North Carolina has created another MAGA politician whose words never seem to hurt their chances of winning an election.

A quick ascent to political celebrity

In 2018, Robinson was just a regular guy when a video of him speaking at a Greensboro City Council meeting was shared by Mark Walker, the district’s U.S. representative at the time.

It gained millions of views on Facebook and landed Robinson on "Fox & Friends." In 2020, he ran for lieutenant governor of North Carolina, a position with name recognition yet very little power. Despite never holding public office, he beat Democratic candidate Yvonne Lewis Holley and took office in 2021.

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Since then, Robinson has become something of a right-wing celebrity. He has spoken at the National Rifle Association’s convention and the Conservative Political Action Conference. He’s been on Fox News repeatedly.

He has more than 175,000 followers on Facebook and 115,000 on X, formerly Twitter. Recently, New York magazine went so far as to refer to him in a headline as “MAGA’s Great Black Hope.”

Robinson is made in Trump's MAGA image – including scare tactics

Former President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial in New York City on May 30, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial in New York City on May 30, 2024.

In a way, Robinson’s rise to power mirrors Trump’s. Like Trump and other MAGA Republicans, Robinson thrives in the culture war. It extends past his online persona despite what little power he has as lieutenant governor.

In 2021, he began a task force to out teachers "indoctrinating" students. It was at the height of school board debates on "critical race theory."

Despite the promise of proof and 506 submissions to the task force in the first six weeks, there was little evidence that teachers were actually corrupting the state's youth. For a MAGA politician, the end result is never the point. The objective is to make as much noise about a social issue as possible, rile up the base and create a fake crusade against anything deemed "woke." When the proof isn't there, there is never an admittance of wrongs. They just move on to the next boogeyman.

Despite the scare tactics, it's clear that Robinson reflects some of the state's politics. In the past year alone, North Carolina has rolled back abortion access by instituting a 12-week ban and has villainized trans people through a series of anti-LGBTQ+ bills.

On the other hand, he has said things that even give Republicans pause. While acting as governor last October, he declared the state's support of Israel in the war with Hamas. It resulted in people calling him out for past antisemitic remarks he had made, including a Facebook post that outright denied the Holocaust happened.

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The right does not seem to care about the horrible things Robinson has said – if they do, they aren't being vocal enough about it.

“Would he be better off if he wasn't so outlandish?” Cooper asked. “Probably, probably at the margins. But no rhetoric is going to tank a Republican or a Democratic candidate for a statewide office in North Carolina. It's just too close, and crossover voting is too rare.”

It's frustrating that nothing seems capable of sinking Robinson's gubernatorial odds, despite the horrible things he has said over the years.

It also isn't surprising. MAGA Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Trump himself have been able to soar past their conspiracy theories and social media posts to become legitimate threats to democracy, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that there's no way they can win.

That's exactly how people treated Trump in 2016, and we saw what happened there. North Carolina is on the verge of finding out after November.

Follow USA TODAY elections columnist Sara Pequeño on X, formerly Twitter, @sara__pequeno and Facebook

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mark Robinson. MAGA. North Carolina. The recipe from political hell