GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump said Saturday night in North Carolina that he would endorse Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson for governor in a move many delegates expect will cement Robinson’s place as the front-runner in a competitive GOP primary and propel him to the governor’s office.
Trump threw his support behind the similarly sharp-spoken Robinson at the state GOP convention in Greensboro during one of his first public appearances since he was hit this week with a historic indictment — the first federal case against a former president.
Trump said he would save his formal endorsement for another time but told Robinson from the stage, “You can count on it, Mark.” He referred to Robinson as “one of the great stars of the party, one of the great stars in politics.”
The former president, meanwhile, faces 37 felony counts for improperly storing in his Florida estate sensitive documents on nuclear capabilities, enlisting aides to help him hide records demanded by investigators and showing off a Pentagon “plan of attack” and a classified map.
But several North Carolina delegates, who greeted the former president and 2024 GOP front-runner with roaring applause, dismissed the indictment as a bad-faith attack by President Joe Biden’s administration to undercut his strongest competitor.
Many Republican voters anticipate the indictment, which Trump called “a travesty of justice,” will boost his presidential campaign — and boost Robinson’s along with it.
“In a lot of ways he reminds me of Trump in that he doesn’t pull any punches,” said Mia Brydie, a 52-year-old GOP delegate from Greensboro. “I admire him because he’s a man that speaks for the people.”
Robinson was elected in 2020 as the state’s first Black lieutenant governor in his first run for public office. He would make similar history if he wins the governorship.
Brydie, a Black woman, said she thinks Robinson is the best person to represent her and other Black and working-class families. Robinson released an autobiography last year that talked about a childhood of poverty and the various financial challenges he has faced as an adult.
But some members of the party have questioned whether Robinson’s long history of harsh comments — which some women, Jewish people and members of the LGBTQ+ community have blasted as misogynistic, antisemitic and homophobic — might hurt the party’s chances of winning back the governorship in a closely divided state.
Robinson’s campaign did not immediately respond Saturday to email and phone messages seeking comment.
Despite Republican success in controlling both chambers of the state legislature, the GOP has won the governor’s office just once since 1992 — back in 2012. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has held the office since 2017, is term-limited and cannot run again in 2024.
State Attorney General Josh Stein is the only prominent Democrat who has entered the race to succeed Cooper. His campaign spokesperson, Kate Frauenfelder, said she expects Trump’s endorsement of Robinson will “spur even more chaos in the already messy Republican primary.”
State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is running against Robinson in the GOP primary, told The Associated Press by text message Saturday during Trump’s speech that he never intended to ask for or receive the former president’s endorsement.
Trump “doesn’t know me or my track record for governing or explaining conservatism without offending people,” Folwell said.
Charles Norwood, a delegate from Hampstead, said shortly before Trump’s speech Saturday that he was undecided about which gubernatorial candidate to support.
Robinson is “very dynamic,” Norwood said. But he and his wife, Lynn, said they were both leaning toward Folwell, who has impressed them during his time as state treasurer.
“Mark has got the enthusiasm, but he may be unfamiliar with the levers of power,” Norwood said. “He may not work the political system as well as he works the emotional system.”
Robinson, Norwood said, is “not as politically sophisticated” as Folwell. But the husband and wife agreed that Trump’s endorsement of Robinson would be enough to sway them “because Trump’s going to be president, and the governor should be on his side,” he said.
Jonathan Bridges, a campaign spokesperson for former U.S. Rep Mark Walker, another GOP candidate for governor, said he “fully anticipated” Trump’s expression of support for Robinson but expects he might not want to follow through with a formal endorsement once he learns more about the lieutenant governor.
Jim Forster, an 81-year-old delegate from Guilford County, drew several parallels between Trump and Robinson, including their hardline conservative positions on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights and their uncensored approach to campaign speeches. Like Trump, Robinson is “strong and aggressive,” he said.
“He would make a lot of mistakes but would do a lot of good things, too,” Forster said. “He’s loud, he’s noisy, he’s pushy and he’s right — that’s what makes him special.”