Dark Robinson

How can a black man be a racist? For Mark Robinson, it’s easy. Here’s Frank Bruni’s take on the matter.


"The 2024 governor’s race in North Carolina just got underway. You care.

"Not because this state is the nation’s ninth most populous, though that’s reason enough. But because what happens here is a referendum on how low Republicans will sink and how far they can nonetheless get.

"Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina announced his candidacy last week. At present he’s the likeliest Democratic nominee. He’s a mostly conventional choice, with a long résumé of public service and unremarkable politics. I say “mostly” because he’s in one way a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Jewish governor.

"The likeliest Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, is also a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Black governor. But that’s the beginning, middle and end of anything forward-looking and progress-minded about him, and he’s extremism incarnate: gun-loving, gay-hating and primed for conspiracy theories, with a garnish of antisemitism to round out the plate.

"Robinson hasn’t formally declared a bid, and he could face and be foiled by a primary challenge from a less provocative rival. But as Tim Funk noted in an article in The Assembly about Robinson’s flamboyantly combative speeches during Sunday worship services across the state, he was recently introduced in Charlotte as “the next governor of North Carolina.”

"Heaven forbid. His election would almost certainly retard the state’s economic dynamism by repelling the sorts of companies and educated young workers attracted to it during the six years that Gov. Roy Cooper, a moderate Democrat who cannot run for another term, has been in office.

"And if 2024 smiles on Republicans, Robinson could indeed emerge victorious. Both of the state’s senators are Republicans; the newer one, Ted Budd, beat his Democratic opponent, Cheri Beasley, by more than three percentage points in November. In two other statewide elections that month, for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court, Republicans also prevailed. And Stein’s re-election as attorney general in 2020 was a squeaker. He won by just two-tenths of 1 percent.

"He came out of the gate last week focusing as much on the brief against Robinson as on the case for himself, making clear that a Stein vs. Robinson race would in large measure hinge on the question of how much bigotry and divisiveness Republican and independent voters in North Carolina are willing to endorse, indulge or be persuaded to overlook. Given what a national mirror this state is, the answer will have relevance and resonance far beyond it.

"We’re approaching a crossroads in North Carolina, my home for the past 18 months, and I can already feel the anxiety rising, including my own.

"Funk captured Robinson well in that Assembly article: “In the Gospel According to Mark Robinson, the United States is a Christian nation, guns are part of God’s plan, abortion is murder, climate change is ‘Godless … junk science,’ and the righteous, especially men, should follow the example of the Jesus who cleansed the temple armed with a whip, and told his disciples to make sure they packed a sword."

"Robinson’s religion is indeed the whipping, slashing kind. It mingles cruelty and snark. When Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his home by a hammer-wielding intruder, Robinson didn’t offer prayers for his recovery. He expressed doubt that Pelosi was an innocent victim — and mocked him.

"He has referred to homosexuality as “filth” and to the transgender rights movement as “demonic.” He’s preoccupied with the devil, whose hand he saw in the movie “Black Panther,” which was “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic marxist,” he railed in a Facebook post that could have used some copy-editing.

"His whole persona could use some copy-editing. It’s all exclamation points.

"But that’s his power, too. “Mark Robinson is extremely popular with the Republican base and the Republican rank and file,” Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, told me. (He has no relation to Roy.) “The reality is that he’s a compelling speaker. And just as many Republicans thought that Donald Trump went too far but at the same time were happy he gave the finger to ‘the establishment,’ Mark Robinson has many of the same advantages.”

"Another factor that could work perversely in his favor: He wasn’t in politics before his current stint as lieutenant governor, a position that doesn’t require him to take votes or issue vetoes or anything like that. “So his profile is self-created,” Cooper said. He can tweak his stances or outright change his script without any actual record, at least beyond his many wild statements, to contradict him.

"But Mac McCorkle, a longtime Democratic strategist who is now a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy (where I also teach), said that while North Carolinians have elected their share of firebrands like Robinson to Congress, they have made different choices for the very different job of governor, who guides the day-to-day functioning of the state.

“Do people want somebody prosecuting the culture wars when there’s a hurricane?” McCorkle asked. He’s inclined to think not. “We haven’t had a shouter as governor, well, ever.”

"But then we hadn’t had a spectacle like the far-right rebellion against the ascent of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in at least a century and a half. We hadn’t had a House speaker coddle the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene until Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Republican Party has gone off the rails but keeps hurtling forward, damage be damned. We’d be foolish in North Carolina to trust that we won’t be part of the wreckage."



I fixed it...

I was hoping he cross-posted it to the Duke Chronicle (Bruni is there now), but no dice. So people will probably run into the NYT paywall.

Logic and reason? Hardly

Bruni and other pundits really don't get what put Mark Robinson in office in the first place.

Sure, Robinson's a dynamic speaker for churches and other crowds that agree with him. He's talking to voters that are really driven and are likely to vote in both the primary and general election. It's his base.

What really defined Robinson for other conservative voters - the ones who might or might not show up on the day of the general - were the tv, radio, web, and direct mail ads. And that's where Robinson's story is more telling.

Robinson's ads were confined to short bits where he touted his gun-carrying credentials and defined himself as a social conservative.

Most of the ads run by the campaign, or on behalf of it by state or out-of-state groups, put a laser focus on his opponent, Yvonne Holley.

The ads darkened her skin color and they chose images of her that made her appear as harsh as possible. The most common them was using her image superimposed on or in juxtaposition with video or stills - again manipulated to darken skin color - of ominous riots or protestors, portraying her has some kind of radical that would bring hoards of Black and brown people to riot in the viewer's neighborhood or town.

I've observed political campaign advertising in NC since the early 90s and have some background in media history. I was really taken aback by what I saw in this campaign - the messaging was relentless and focused solely on that track, unlike previous campaigns where these tactics might be part of a larger mix of messaging.

It was so successful for Robinson that the GOP campaigns for the legislature and many of the same PACs that used the tactic with Robinson, pulled out the same thing against white and Latino candidates for the legislature in the last election.

There's no logic at play here - these mildly interested general election voters and so-called independents are motivated by raw scare tactics and racism.

Please stop pretending that Robinson, or any other candidate, defines themselves in speaking engagements at county fairs or local Republican clubs. The image they (and their handlers) want to project is shown entirely by advertising to the larger public.

And, most importantly, this kind of messaging is driven by a small group of big, hard-right donors - you see the same ads, often made from the same scripts and templates, running in different markets in different states.

I'm sure the same scare tactics would be used in a Stein-Robinson match-up in 2024. They've worked the past two election cycles and there's no reason to think they wouldn't work again.

Republicans ...

... use a psychological strategy of intimidation, anger, and fear.

Democrats, especially here in NC, seem to think that logic and common sense will win the day.

It doesn't when you're up against what are essentially fascist psy-ops tactics.

Remember that Nazis came to power by making just enough of a majority of the German public worked up with irrational fears about racial and religious minorities, communists, intellectuals, "immoral" homosexuals and artists, and the doom of national and personal impotency. These are all the same themes Republicans and the PACs working on their behalf relentlessly drive home in campaigns and right-wing media today. And this rhetoric is sprinkled with just the same vague calls for violence and "on the ground" action against perceived enemies.