On Saturday, former President Donald Trump made one of his first major public appearances since losing the 2020 election, addressing a North Carolina Republican Party convention in Greenville.
If there were any lingering questions over Trump’s continuing influence among party loyalists, he answered them that night.
NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley may have summed up the feelings of the vast majority of North Carolina Republicans when he introduced Trump at the party’s annual convention on June 5.
“We have never seen a president who did more in his first term to put America first than our 45th president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump,” Whatley said.
Trump won this battleground state by less than 4 points in 2016, but saw that margin slip to less than 2 points in 2020. Maintaining control of North Carolina is paramount for Republicans, especially as the state is poised to gain another Member of Congress, giving it another vote in the Electoral College.
Over the course of the evening, Trump recounted what he said were the major accomplishments of his administration.
“We handed the new administration the greatest economy in the history of the world,” he said. “We passed massive tax cuts, the largest ever, larger than our great friend, Ronald Reagan, record regulation cuts, historic pro-American trade deals and achieved American energy independence.”
Trump also touted his handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic. That included the vaccines developed during the final months of his term and the ensuing economic recovery. But the former president claims his predecessor President Joe Biden has mishandled all of it.
“All Joe Biden had to do was sit back and do nothing and … Instead, the economy is going to hell and inflation is going to cause a catastrophe,” said Trump. “The New York Times, who I don't often quote, just stated a million jobs a month seemed within grasp not long ago. Think of it – a million jobs a month seemed within grasp but now it looks like wishful thinking. Isn't that sad?”
Trump’s remarks were well-received by those in attendance. Michele Woodhouse, the Republican Party chair of the 11th Congressional District in Western North Carolina, was asked how much the state GOP is still behind Trump, on a scale of 1 to 100.
“Oh, I would say 100. We heard it tonight,” said Woodhouse. “President Trump continues to talk about promises kept over the time he was in office for four years. He speaks to such a broad group within the Republican Party.”
Kay Miller, chair of the Haywood County GOP, explains Trump’s continuing appeal.
“The America first agenda, all that – everybody's really big behind that and so I guess in a sense he's not the father of it, but recently this is who we've gotten behind,” Miller said. “This is what we love. That's why we all adore him so much.”
That adoration for Trump, and for those in his circle, was only underscored further when his daughter-in-law, North Carolina native and Fox News personality Lara Trump, addressed rumors she’d seek the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Richard Burr.
“Because of my two kids, who are very young, 1 and 3, Carolina and Luke, it is going to be very hard for me to enter this Senate race right now. But – I am saying no for now, not no forever,” she said.
Donald Trump followed that up with an endorsement of another Republican for the job, cementing his status as Republican kingmaker for 2022 and perhaps beyond.
“A lot of you don’t know him that well,” said Trump, “but you’re gonna know him probably within about two minutes – Ted Budd.”
Trump’s surprise endorsement of the three-term Davie County congressman runs counter to one of his close confidants – Western North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn. The freshman Republican earlier this year endorsed former Congressman Mark Walker for the GOP nod. Former Governor Pat McCrory is also running for the Republican nomination, and took to Twitter after Trump’s endorsement to call Budd a “Washington insider.”