The Messenger: “Flame-Throwing Republican Frontrunner” is “Stoking Fear” About Public Schools, Refers To Educators As “Wicked People”
An article published by The Messenger is diving into Robinson’s divisive rhetoric on public education that is now “emerging as a potential liability” and as one Republican strategist put it: “It’s a weakness for Robinson”
Despite his attempts to soften his language, Robinson’s record of villainizing educators and attacking public schools is heavily documented. The Messenger writes that in a recent speech Robinson urged parents to take their kids out of school and “make your own school,” and referred to public school teachers as “wicked people.” The article also notes his previous comments from his memoir stating “that if he were ‘totally’ in charge of education in North Carolina, he’d stop the teaching of social studies and science in grades one through five.”
The choice in this race is clear as the two candidates “could not be more different – both in style and substance – on education.” Josh Stein is “measured” and earned the support of public school educators, while Robinson is “dramatic” and “often veers entirely into stoking fear around education.”
- North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson rose to prominence for not mincing words on education – but as he hurtles toward the 2024 Republican gubernatorial nomination, that frankness is emerging as a potential liability.
- As recently as last month, Robinson referred to public school teachers as “wicked people” in remarks before a church audience. Later in July, he said parents “want that choice to be able to take their children out of those failing public schools.” And in his 2022 book, Robinson wrote that if he were “totally” in charge of education in North Carolina, he’d stop the teaching of social studies and science in grades one through five.
- We’re going to work like heck in Raleigh to make sure these schools get straightened out, but until they do, I’m gonna tell you what you need to do: If they won’t do right, you need to come out from among them, make your own school,” Robinson said in a July speech. “Do not turn your children over to these wicked people. Do not.”
- It’s comments like this that have made Robinson a champion of the Republican base, someone with a rising national profile after repeated appearances on Fox News, and the overwhelming frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in North Carolina in 2024.
- But Robinson is now looking to soften his positions on education, a sign that his hardline comments on the issue are a vulnerability, a view shared by some Republicans in the state. Education, particularly the role parents can play in the operation of public schools, has become a more important political issue in recent years, especially for Republicans after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin used the issue to mount a significant win in 2021.
- During a speech to the Rotary Club in August – over a month after his church speech in July – Robinson said he wanted “all those teachers out there and all those educators out there to know, we are on your side” and said “our state’s future is in the hands of our educators. If we don’t have some reformation around how we treat them, how we pay them, how we respect them, the future will remain bleak.”
- The issue with this new strategy is it confronts what Robinson has said about education during his political ascent.
- “Now I’ve been accused of saying … I want to get rid of science, history in elementary school,” Robinson said during the Rotary Club speech. “That’s not true. Science and history certainly should be part of elementary school.”
- It’s not an accusation, however, that Robinson has said that – he wrote it in his own book, We Are The Majority: The Life and Passions of a Patriot.“If I were totally in charge of education,” he wrote, he would focus solely on “reading, writing and math” from grades one to five and not teach things like social studies, science, and other issues.
- “In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies. We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice,” Robinson wrote, adding later, “That’s the course I would set it in North Carolina.”
- Robinson’s focus on education has made the issue one of paramount importance in the 2024 governor’s race in North Carolina, arguably the most closely watched gubernatorial contest in the country that year. Robinson, because of his conservative profile and current position, is widely seen as the presumptive nominee in the state, while state Attorney General Josh Stein is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
- The two could not be more different – both in style and substance – on education. Where Robinson speaks about the issue in dramatic terms, Stein is more measured. Where Robinson supports expanding voucher programs, allowing them to use the tax money that would have gone to public schools and spend it on the school of their choice, Stein opposes taking money away from public schools and directing that money to private institutions. And where Robinson criticizes public school educators, Stein has been endorsed by them.
- “North Carolina’s kids need a good teacher in every classroom and a good principal in every school. That means investing in our public schools to ensure that teachers, administrators, counselors, and all other school staff are supported, compensated, and safe,” Stein said in a statement after he was endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators earlier this year. “There is no greater priority than our kids’ education.”
- Education has been a rising political issue in recent years. Then businessman Glenn Youngkin rode the issue to the Virginia governor’s mansion in 2021, seizing on parental dissatisfaction with schools closing during Covid and Republican concerns about what is being taught in schools. That win has led other Republicans – especially those seeking executive positions – to make education and parental rights a central issue in their campaigns.
- Robinson’s comments, however, are vastly different from the way Youngkin spoke about the issue during his campaign. Where Youngkin was more measured in the way he spoke about the issue, Robinson often veers entirely into stoking fear around education. (His campaign has not yet responded to The Messenger’s request for comment.)
- Robinson’s rhetoric on education has long worried some North Carolina Republicans, many of whom watched Youngkin succeed in Virginia and hoped their nominee would follow that path years later.
- “It’s a weakness for Robinson. The language that he uses is dramatic – there is not a better word for it because it’s performative,” said Doug Heye, a North Carolina native and former top spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “Education was a winning issue for Republicans because, as Glenn Youngkin showed best, they were running to reopen schools, so the education arguments were simultaneously pro-school and we need to fix some of the things going on in schools, and parents need a say. That is a common sense argument that parents can rally around.”
- Heye added: “Youngkin has shown Republicans what the model is. But that doesn’t mean they are all going to learn from that and follow it.”