'Bad candidate': Mark Walker says Trump made mistake backing North Carolina GOP Senate rival
Former Rep. Mark Walker lashed out at the Club for Growth and suggested that former President Donald Trump was misled into endorsing his rival for the Republican Senate nomination in North Carolina during an interview with the Washington Examiner .
Referring to the Club for Growth and pointing to the outcome of a special House election in Texas that saw the free market advocacy group’s anointed candidate collapse, the former congressman said that “the super PAC” was similarly misjudging the North Carolina Senate primary with its endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd. Budd, also endorsed by Trump, “is a bad candidate” who Walker said will jeopardize GOP control of a seat being relinquished by retiring Sen. Richard Burr.
Contra his criticism of Washington-based groups, including the Club for Growth, Walker welcomed Trump’s meddling, saying, “He’s still the most impactful Republican in the GOP.” Walker even traveled to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s winter residence in Palm Beach, Florida, in early May to ask the former president for support. Walker was left with the impression that Trump would not be endorsing — at least not anytime soon.
He blames Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina Republican congressman turned Trump White House chief of staff. Walker suggested that Meadows, who works for a political organization affiliated with Trump in his post-presidency, was the “puppet master” behind the former commander in chief's surprising, snap decision to endorse Budd just one month later. Walker said Meadows was out for revenge.
“When I endorsed Madison Cawthorn over Mark Meadows’s wife’s best friend, I think that created a situation where this was an opportunity for a little payback,” Walker said. “I did what was right. The repercussions probably cost me President Trump’s endorsement.”
Meadows was representing North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District when he resigned to become White House chief of staff. He endorsed ally Lynda Bennett in the Republican primary held to replace him, as did Trump. Walker backed Cawthorn, 25, who pulled off the upset in a subsequent primary runoff contest, becoming a darling of grassroots conservatives even before he assumed office.
A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment for this story, as did a spokesman for the Budd campaign. Polls showed an uptick of support for Budd after Trump endorsed him, with Republican operatives in North Carolina agreeing the primary is now his to lose.
On Tuesday, Jake Ellzey defeated Susan Wright in a special election to fill Texas’s vacant 6th Congressional District. Ellzey, a state representative backed by former Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, was considered the underdog against Wright, who was running to replace her deceased husband and enjoyed endorsements from Trump and the Club for Growth. On Wednesday, Walker took to Twitter to criticize “a DC super PAC.”
“Once again, a DC Super PAC spent millions on a candidate whose voter card they wanted to control only to be rejected by the voters,” the former congressman tweeted. “Just like NC voters, TX voters knew better than the DC special interest, and that’s why the grassroots candidate won in #TX06.” On Thursday, Walker did not deny that he was referring to the Club for Growth.
“I’m not going to name names at this point. I’ll let the reader … draw their own conclusion,” Walker said Thursday. “But I don’t know that it’s too hard to tell when … the super PAC is out there boasting they’ve dropped $5.1 million — $5.125 million, I believe it was, for this particular candidate.” Indeed, on June 21, the Club for Growth announced its super PAC had raised $5.125 million for Budd’s Senate campaign.
The group is dismissing Walker’s critique as sour grapes.
“Classic Mark Walker, unelectable and trying to make everything about himself. If we had a nickel for every time he begged us for money or an endorsement, we would probably have more cash than he has in the bank for his campaign,” said Joe Kildea, spokesman for Club for Growth Action.
But Walker claims that it is Budd who is unelectable and insists he can win the nod despite missing out on Trump’s endorsement — just like Cawthorn did last year and just like Ellzey did this week.
“I don’t think North Carolinians love President Trump any less than Texans do — and visa versa,” Walker said. “But the point is, just because you love President Trump ... doesn’t mean that you’re automatically, blindly, going to vote for a candidate you don’t think can win the general election.”
Walker, 52, was a House member for six years, retiring after the 2020 elections to focus on his planned Senate bid.
A pastor, he has traveled the state delivering guest sermons in a different church every Sunday since he launched his campaign and before that typically did so about twice a month. Walker is confident that the bond he has forged with evangelicals and the healthy list of endorsements from local elected officials across North Carolina will combine to deliver him the nomination in next March’s primary. Former Gov. Pat McCrory is also running.
Walker entered July with just under $927,000 in cash on hand, more than McCrory’s $955,000-plus but far less than Budd’s $1.7 million. But Walker said he has overcome financial disadvantages in the past and can do so in this contest. To get there, he is not pulling any punches in comparisons with Budd, his main competition. Walker charges that his opponent is thick on pleasing rhetoric and thin on meaningful, conservative accomplishments.
“I don’t think he’s electable, but also don’t think he’s effective,” Walker said. “We’ve been sending fighters to D.C. for 50 years. Why can’t we send somebody on the Senate side who can fight and knows how to win?”