Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Saddest Fringe of the NCGOP


One of the rarest sightings in North Carolina, a former Republican governor, has decided to make regular appearances as an opinion writer for the Raleigh News & Observer. Former Gov. Jim Martin's first column appeared last Saturday.

In it, he summed up the dilemma of the Trump/Biden binary for moderate Republicans like him:

They [a vague "many Americans"] abhor Trump’s belligerent swagger and lack of integrity, yet fear Biden’s social policies and competence as much. Neither showed any fiscal responsibility. Both parties seem stuck with candidates almost as old as I am (87).

I take the they to be Martin himself and the kinds of Republicans he represents, educated, fundamentally scientific in approach, never extreme. (Martin himself holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.) Despite what Trump has done to his Party, Martin is still a Republican, with conservative Republican values that include actual morality. He argues that the Trump juggernaut has balsam wheels and offers numbers to downplay what Trump won in Iowa -- "surprisingly, Trump barely won 51% of the Republican caucus and 20 of Iowa’s 40 apportioned delegates." Martin still believes, perhaps hilariously, that Trump can be stopped by a more acceptable Republican. Which one of the surviving flavors? DeSantis or Haley? Martin was coy. Haley or DeSantis? He doesn't care which one, just as long as there's one and not two for all the not-Trump voters looking for union, just so some acceptable and actual Republican beats Trump for the nomination. Martin seems to think it's possible -- a faith that passeth understanding. (That faith is put to the ultimate test today in New Hampshire, with DeSantis out and Haley facing Trump solo.)

Correctly, Martin sees the Unaffiliated vote as potentially decisive in any Republican Primary, if only someone would launch a really good organizational campaign and quickly whip all those Unaffiliated voters up into a bloc. If only someone. If only those who are registered Unaffiliated (some 2,736,775 persons of voting age in North Carolina) could see it as their "duty" (Martin actually uses that word) to pull a Republican ballot on March 5th and vote for someone besides Trump to save the Republican Party from itself.  

Reading Gov. Martin's essay, I went rummaging for my copy of Tom Eamon's The Making of a Southern Democracy: North Carolina Politics From Kerr Scott to Pat McCrory, because I remembered only vaguely when Jim Martin won the governorship in 1984, and went on to reelection in 1988, the first Republican governor ever to serve two full terms. I wasn't following North Carolina politics at that time and certainly not North Carolina Republican politics.

Jim Martin as a Congressman,
after he served as governor

So I wouldn't have known probably that Jim Martin (along with that other moderate Republican governor Jim Holshouser) had "frosty relationships with the Jesse Helms wing" of the NCGOP. Martin and Holshouser favored incumbent Republican Prez Gerald Ford over the insurgent Ronald Reagan in the 1976 presidential primary in NC, a preference which was out of step with the hardcore Helms base, and the two former and distinguished governors were blatantly denied credentials as delegates to the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City as punishment.

Historian Tom Eamon:

At first, Martin was not sure whether he was a Democrat or Republican. He was a progressive with conservative instincts and supported the tenets of capitalism. His decision to become a Republican rested partly on the premise that the long-entrenched Democrats were the party of the status quo in North Carolina. Moreover, the fledgling Republican Party seemed more welcoming to the young and ambitious.

Love those last two sentences. This I do remember, that the "long-entrenched Democrats were the party of the status quo." But which party has changed most since those days 50 years ago when a Republican governor could be a "progressive Republican" and Democrats were sometimes more conservative than Republicans are now.


Wolf's Head said...

I'm still waiting for every road in NC to be paved...

Red Hornet said...

Him: Look, Honey!
Her: Well, I'll be...
Him: A Libertarian paving a road.

(Cameron A. Morrison was known as the "good roads governor," holding office from 1921 to 1925. He was a racist Democrat who helped lead the Wilmington Massacre in 1898. His name has now been removed from several state buildings.)

Wolf's Head said...

Jim Martin was a Libertarian?