This story was originally published by NC Newsline, story by Joe Killian

When the North Carolina Republican Party convened for its convention in Greensboro this weekend, it brought together rivals for the GOP presidential and gubernatorial nominations. While there’s no love lost between some of these candidates, there’s also a complex and evolving history in which the now twice indicted former President Donald Trump looms large.

Trump spoke at the convention as did fellow presidential hopefuls Gov. Ron Desantis of Florida and former Vice President Mike Pence.

Before announcing his candidacy this week, Pence had largely kept his powder dry when publicly discussing Trump.

Pence acrimoniously split with the president he served for four years when he presided over the certifying of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. As Trump urged Pence to overturn the results and rioters took the U.S. Capitol on January 6, some chanting “hang Mike Pence,” the former vice president insisted he was standing by the Constitution and a peaceful transfer of power.

Trump has repeatedly disparaged Pence since. Pence has said he believes the former president endangered the lives of everyone at the capitol that day. But when Pence spoke at UNC-Chapel Hill in April, the furthest he would go when asked about Trump’s re-election bid was to say, “It’s a free country. The former president has every right to seek office again. But there might be somebody out there I support more.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at UNC-Chapel Hill. (Photo by Joe Killian)

Though Pence faced a pro-Trump heckler that night, he brushed it off with humor.

That tone changed Wednesday, when Pence announced his own election bid in Iowa.

“I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States,” Pence said of Trump. “And anyone who asked someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and former Congressman Mark Walker, both vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, have their own fraught and evolving relationships with Trump.

Before his political career took off after a viral pro-gun speech at a Greensboro City Council meeting in 2018, Robinson’s political pronouncements were largely relegated to his social media accounts. Years of his Facebook and Twitter screeds and comments on podcasts have since been endlessly mined, turning up sexist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ remarks. Recently, his condemnations of the American Civil Rights movement as a communist plot to subvert capitalism have been making the rounds.

Less discussed, until recently, were 2016 Facebook posts in which Robinson mocked and warned against a potential Trump presidency.

In one such post Robinson called Trump’s candidacy a “farce” intended to destroy the legitimacy of conservatives.

Like many once anti-Trump conservatives, Robinson quickly got on board once Trump secured the nomination. Since he took office as lieutenant  governor, Robinson has been compared to Trump by Republicans and Democrats alike, for both his dramatic and often combative rhetorical style and ability to come unscathed through scandals that might have ended other political careers.

Robinson has appeared with Trump at rallies and won praise from the former president – though not, as yet, an endorsement for the gubernatorial nomination.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson poses with former congressmen Madison Cawthorn and Mark Walker.(Photo: Screen grab from Walker’s Twitter feed)

A Trump endorsement was at the root of the split between Robinson and Walker, his one-time friend and early political mentor. Walker, then a congressman, gave Robinson an early platform through sharing a video of Robinson’s 2018 city council speech with his robust social media following. Robinson also followed the campaign path Walker carved through Christian evangelical conservatives who positioned themselves as outside of the state’s Republican power structure.

The two men regularly praised and defended each other in social media posts and made appearances across the state for The American Renewal Project, a conservative Christian nationalist group that rejects the separation of church and state and is working to put evangelical Christians in office. But Walker and Robinson later fell out over Robinson siding with Trump to endorse Ted Budd over Walker in a U.S. Senate race.

“Anytime you have somebody who’s promoting you as the best candidate for the U.S. Senate and does a 180-degree [turn], it does impact the relationship,” Walker said in an interview with WRAL last year. “I don’t hold grudges. We were talking on a weekly basis. That doesn’t exist anymore.”

Walker has lately been revisiting his own on-again-off-again political romance with Trump. In a podcast interview this week, he shared the story of his awkward trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to seek his endorsement in his failed senate bid.

After recounting how Trump could not stop talking about “how hot the women are in Mar-a-Lago,” Walker said he’s not “awed” by Trump and “never kissed up.”

“[A]s a person of faith, I don’t hold somebody in such a specific esteem that I don’t feel like that I can’t have a conversation or express how I feel about something not being disrespectful,” Walker said.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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