Before former President Trump took the stage at the N.C. Republican convention Saturday night, representatives from Ted Budd’s Senate campaign asked a secret service agent where their guy should stand if, by chance, Trump called him up.
The agent turned away and spoke into a microphone in his sleeve, then turned back around with a smirk.
“That’s when I knew,” Budd senior advisor Jonathan Felts told me, “the endorsement was going to happen.”
Shortly after that, Trump pulled Budd and his wife, Amy Kate, aside and made two points:
- Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, wasn’t going to run in the 2022 Senate primary.
- Budd was now Trump’s pick to win.
And standing in the same building, former Charlotte mayor and N.C. governor Pat McCrory officially became the outsider he’s been claiming to be.
Why it matters: Trump’s endorsement of Budd gives shape to a primary that will say a lot about the future of the Republican Party. And whoever the party puts forth will enter a general election that could decide the balance of power in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50.
- Budd, who was one of the 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election in January, now assumes a commanding position among Trump loyalists.
- McCrory will have to reel in the more moderate Republicans who feel disconnected from the 45th President’s version fo the party.
- And former Rep. Mark Walker, who’s also been vying for a Trump endorsement, takes a back seat to Budd.
What Trump said: “This gentleman is going to be your next senator,” Trump said of Budd. Trump offered his “complete and total endorsement.”
- “You can’t pick people who have already lost two races,” Trump added in a swipe at McCrory’s losses in the 2008 and 2016 gubernatorial races.
- Trump told the crowd he liked that Budd hadn’t actively courted his endorsement.
Between the lines: McCrory, who supported most of Trump’s policies, was critical of the former president on his radio show in January for not accepting defeat in the 2020 election. McCrory said efforts to overturn results were “destroying democracy.”
- This is the question of the modern Republican experience — how costly is it to not unconditionally support Trump?
- In this case, it certainly didn’t help McCrory win an endorsement.
McCrory, who didn’t return a message from Axios Charlotte on Sunday, said in a statement: “I’m disappointed that President Trump has endorsed a Washington insider who has done more to opposed the Trump agenda than anyone in this race. We will win this race — the primary and the general.”
For their part, the candidates in the Democratic primary were happy to tie Budd to Trump.
- Cheri Beasley posted, “Donald Trump thinks he can pick who’s best for NC but the truth is that @TedBuddNC is more focused on impressing Trump & his cronies than standing up for what’s best for NC. With your help we can beat him in 2022.”
- Erica Smith said, “Twice impeached, banned on social media, disgraced former President endorses corporate lackey and insurection (cq) apologist.”
- Beaufort mayor Rett Newton: “As a further implosion of the Republican Party, yesterday the former president endorsed the toxic and destructive Ted Budd. Even Lara Trump fully recognizes this sinking GOP ship and declines to run.
- And Charlotte’s Jeff Jackson tweeted, “Bring it, Ted.”