Listen to many of the conservative pundits around the country and in North Carolina these days and you’d think Donald Trump appeared out of nowhere to storm to the front of the Republican presidential primary field with his rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims and women that traditional Republican leaders say they find offensive.
Trump has called for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, a suggestion that North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr called a bad mistake that would be harmful for national security.
When Trump announced his bid for president last summer he railed against immigrants from Mexico that he said included murderers and rapists.
Those comments ignited a firestorm of protest that led to television networks announcing they would no longer air beauty contests that Trump presents, ESPN shifting a golf tournament away from a Trump golf course and NASCAR moving its banquet away from a Trump-owned property.
Trump not only hasn’t apologized for the comments, he’s continued to make them and found new ways to offend people, including ridiculing a reporter with a disability.
Despite it all, he is now the frontrunner in the Republican primary and he is leading in the polls in North Carolina.
And it’s driving the mainstream Republicans and their prominent supporters crazy. One prominent conservative think-tanker in Raleigh recently described Trump as “a charlatan, a pathetic, disgusting human being,” and said he could all but destroy the Republican Party.
But Trump didn’t come out of nowhere of course and he didn’t just start making offensive statements. A few weeks before Trump said immigrants from Mexico were rapists in his announcement speech, he said virtually the same thing as a keynote speaker at the 2015 state convention of the North Carolina Republican Party.
And it wasn’t the first time Trump was invited by Republican leaders to come to North Carolina. He was a keynote speaker at the 2012 convention too. No allegedly mainstream Republican protested his invitation either time and prominent state Republicans all sat quietly in a ballroom and listened to Trump make his offensive remarks about immigrants last summer.
Now, however, they are offended by what he is saying.
Trump himself isn’t the real problem. He’s a candidate but he’s also a symptom of how far outside the mainstream the Republican Party has moved in North Carolina and how unwilling party leaders are to stand up to extremists.
Hardly a week goes by without Republican candidates or leaders of public policy groups that support them speaking at events sponsored by groups that call President Obama a Marxist and a Muslim who was not born in America.
County Republican parties have passed resolutions calling on the United States to withdraw from the United Nations and for the nullification of the Affordable Care Act, demanding that state officials refuse to obey the law under a warped view of the U.S. Constitution.
Nullification was also the focus of a rally outside the Legislative Building a few years ago when leaders of radical tea party groups urged state lawmakers to “honor their oath” and nullify the health care law.
Several state legislators addressed the crowd, as did then N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, who praised the event’s organizers.
The rally garnered little media attention even though it featured elected officials and the head of a major political party endorsing a call for North Carolina to refuse to obey the federal government of the United States.
There are dozens of more examples: Who can forget Sen. Bob Rucho’s tweet a few years ago that the Affordable Care Act “has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis, Soviets & terrorists combined?”
North Carolina Republicans and their think tank supporters worried about the candidacy of Donald Trump have themselves partially to blame.
They have repeatedly invited Trump to appear at official party events and they have refused to confront or even distance themselves from extremists and their hateful rhetoric time and time again.
At some point, you finally do reap what you sow.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.