GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Mark Robinson hasn’t announced formally his campaign for governor in North Carolina, but he’s already drawing the brutal focus of a significant national voice.

Robinson, the lieutenant governor and highest-ranking elected Republican in the state who is considered the front-runner for the nomination to succeed Gov. Roy Cooper in 2024, is the target of a scathing opinion piece by Frank Bruni in The New York Times about that governor’s race.

Lt. Governor Mark Robinson speaks to the crowd at Rep. Ted Budd’s election night watch party in November. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The headline is a direct shot at Robinson, “Anti-Gay? Anti-Science? Antisemitic? Run for Governor of North Carolina!” because all of those points go directly to some of the most controversial comments that Robinson, an ultra-conservative and avowed Christian, has made throughout his political career.

Robinson, you may recall, rose to political prominence after he addressed the Greensboro City Council in 2018 about gun rights in a video that went viral, and since then he has presented a take-no-prisoners position on a variety of volatile topics, including the LGBTQ community, gun rights, abortion rights, climate change and public education, to name a few. He also published last fall a memoir, titled “We Are the Majority: The Life and Passions of a Patriot.”

He has spoken at many national rallies and appeared in August at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas as a warm-up act for former President Donald Trump that included scathing rebukes and controversial positions. He is on the board of the National Rifle Association.

Attorney General Josh Stein last week announced unsurprisingly that he would seek the Democratic nomination. Bruni in his column pointed out that, should Stein win, he would be the state’s first Jewish governor.

But he also pointed out that, should Robinson win, he would be the state’s first Black governor, which, Bruni wrote, is “the beginning, middle and end of anything forward-looking and progress-minded about him.”

Before we go further, we should note that Bruni, who retired after a long career at the Times, knows North Carolina. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1986, and he returned to the state to be the Eugene c. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke. He was the commencement speaker for UNC’s Class of 2022.

Bruni calls Robinson “extremism incarnate: gun-loving, gay-hating and primed for conspiracy theories, with a garnish of antisemitism to round out the plate.”

Will Mark Robinson run for North Carolina governor?

Although Robinson hasn’t announced his candidacy, he has alluded to the possibility in his speeches at a recent antiabortion rally in Raleigh and through the release of his book. His spokesperson did not respond to a question from WGHP last week about when Robinson might announce.

A panel convened last year by WGHP listed Robinson as the first choice for governor, and the progressive Carolina Forward in November did early polling on the governor’s race, with Robinson getting 54% of support among Republicans. Current U.S. Sen Thom Tillis was the choice of 20%, a few others were named, and about 2 in 10 respondents were undecided or wanted “someone else” from a suggested list.

Bruni discusses the pro-Republican climate in North Carolina, most recently through Ted Budd’s recent victory in the race for U.S. Senate and the GOP’s assumption of a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Republicans, indeed, dominated in November’s elections.

The NC Democratic Party predictably jumped on the piece – which it incorrectly refers to as an “editorial” by the newspaper rather than the personal opinion by Bruni – with a release cherry-picking the most volatile paragraphs.

WGHP reached out to Robinson’s spokesperson to see if there would be a comment.

Bruni’s criticism of Mark Robinson

SELMA, NC - APRIL 09: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks before a rally for former U.S. President Donald Trump at The Farm at 95 on April 9, 2022 in Selma, North Carolina. The rally comes about five weeks before North Carolinas primary elections where Trump has thrown his support behind candidates in some key Republican races. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks last April before a rally for former U.S. President Donald Trump in Selma. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Bruni refers to a profile last fall about Robinson by The Assembly, an in-depth state news website, titled, “The Gospel According to Mark Robinson,” which details some of his more incendiary speeches at churches throughout the state. The piece offers perspectives from religious scholars across the state.

Wrote Bruni: “Robinson’s religion is indeed the whipping, slashing kind. It mingles cruelty and snark.” He mentioned Robinson’s mockery of Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after he was beaten by an intruder. 

Bruni talks about how Robinson’s firebrand style commands audiences and goes to the culture-war issues that many in the GOP embrace as important. He cites how Robinson’s popularity was built on the same dynamic as Trump’s “finger to the establishment” approach and that, because he has held no other elected office, Robinson, again like Trump, has no electoral record to dissect.

But in Bruni’s final analysis is this most salient point: “His election would almost certainly retard the state’s economic dynamism by repelling the sorts of companies and educated young workers attracted to it during the six years that Gov. Roy Cooper … has been in office.”

He concludes with this about Robinson’s potential election: “The Republican Party has gone off the rails but keeps hurtling forward, damage be damned. We’d be foolish in North Carolina to trust that we won’t be part of the wreckage.”