In the ground-floor offices of the Guilford County GOP on a recent Saturday morning on West Friendly Avenue, Greensboro’s congressmen make a rare appearance.
Rep. Mark Walker, in blue jeans and an open-collared dark shirt, likes to stand near the focal point of the room: He engages with constituents in the aisle formed by metal folding chairs, inching ever closer to the dais at the front of the hall.
Rep. Ted Budd, however, works the fringe, hustling to the back corner to shake the hand of a white-haired man in a navy-blue windbreaker, interact with a couple in their forties who find themselves drawn out of Budd’s district — the 13th — this go-round.
They’re in the 6th district now, he explains, and they won’t have the chance to vote for Mark Walker. But that too will change when the 2020 Census drops.
“What you have now,” Budd advises, “won’t necessarily be what you get.”
I agree with Budd on very few issues, but I know he’s got a keen sense of electoral politics and an ingrained survivor’s instinct. His 13th district seat was cut for a Republican before 2016; Budd won a primary against 16 other GOP candidates with 20 percent of the vote. He won the general in 2016 by 10 points. In 2018, he won with just 51.54 percent of the vote.
He’s pinned all his hopes for victory in 2020 to Trump. They all have, even Walker, who dropped out of the game rather than fight for the cause in 2020. So, while any voters who could still be on the fence on impeachment, or interested in cheerleading the Trump campaign’s spirited defense of the charges, might be watching the impeachment hearings in the Senate this morning, the GOP engaged in a little counterprogramming.
It’s called Stop the Madness, a movement to gather these incurious folks and set them to work as door-knockers, email-gatherers, sign-hangers and the like. The congressmen are here to shore up that base, about 50 of them, mostly of a predictable demographic but there’s one in in the crowd wearing a hijab, and candidate Troy Lawson, former chair of the Guilford County GOP who is running this year for the District 5 seat on Guilford County Commission: A bona fide black Republican. He’s acknowledged after the convocation and pledge, before the congressmen speak.
Walker goes first.
“I guess some of you are paying attention to this impeachment thing,” Walker says. They hiss and groan.
“The president is not worried about this,” he continues. “In fact, data shows that it’s turning independents and moderates off.”
Walker never lets a chance slip to drop the name of his predecessor, revered still in these red rooms. And so, he mentions a conversation he and Howard Coble had on a flight from DC: There are two kinds of people in Washington, the wizened old legislator had said. Workhorses and showhorses. Walker tells this story this without a trace of irony.
It’s the volunteers, he says, the ones right here in this room, who are the workhorses.
When Budd takes the floor, he rehashes the party’s standard impeachment lines, throwing in a bit about “activist judges” before thanking the footsoldiers.
Budd slips into an anteroom for a short interview. He’s been drawn out of Greensboro, that noteworthy tract that included one-half of NC A&T University. Now the 13th covers 10 counties that surround Greensboro and Winston-Salem from the southwest to the northeast. It’s pretty safe territory for a gun-shop owner in lockstep with his president and his party, with no primary competition and facing a first-timer, Scott Huffman, in the general. But still he’s concerned — enough, anyway, to visit his home district during a historic moment for his president and his party, to work the corners of the room and spend a few minutes with an unknown reporter.
“It’s good to be engaged,” he says. “Always pay attention.”
Now Walker’s gone, and Budd is wrapping up too. Down the hall, in the back room, the footsoldiers are getting their training. No press allowed.