In recent years, the Republican Party has found itself at a crossroads, torn between traditional conservative values and the rising tide of populism. Nowhere is this conflict more evident than in North Carolina, where the battle for the soul of the GOP has profound implications for both the state and the nation as a whole.

Populism, with its simplistic solutions and divisive rhetoric, poses a grave danger to the principles that have long guided the conservative movement. Instead of promoting personal responsibility and fiscal prudence, populists appeal to base instincts and exploit fear and resentment for political gain. This approach undermines the integrity of the Republican Party and allows the equally divisive progressive Democrats to position themselves as the “normal party,” while sneaking in their naive, harmful agenda.

As we examine the dangerous implications of populism, it’s essential to understand its origins and how it manifests in contemporary politics. Populism often emerges during times of economic uncertainty or social upheaval when individuals feel disillusioned with the established political order. It taps into legitimate grievances and channels them into a narrative of “us versus them,” pitting ordinary people against a perceived elite or against marginalized groups.

Populism’s influence transcends political ideologies, as it manifests in both far-right and far-left positions. While the left capitalizes on fear surrounding voting rights, school choice, minimum wage, taxes, and policing, populists on the right take typical conservative causes — like guns, border security, and election integrity — and whip up a frenzy that can spin into conspiracy theories and violence.

One of the most alarming aspects of populism is its disregard for democratic norms and institutions. Populists often portray themselves as the voice of the people, claiming to represent the true interests of the nation while demonizing political opponents as corrupt or illegitimate. This rhetoric can undermine trust in democratic processes, erode the rule of law, and pave the way for authoritarianism.

Here in North Carolina, populist rhetoric has not always proved to be a successful campaign strategy, as many candidates of this mold have found.

One-time Congressman Madison Cawthorn in the western part of the state, for example, was defeated in the 2022 primaries by a less-bombastic option in now-Congressman Chuck Edwards. The populist path had led to a lot of chaos, and voters in the district had enough.

The problem for Republicans is that many of these candidates are popular in primaries, so they take the nomination, yet are not very popular in general elections, so they ultimately lose the seat.

In the country at large, we have seen these tendencies play out in real-time. From efforts to overturn certified elections to attacks on the DOJ and federal law enforcement agencies, populists have been willing to tear down any institution they believe is standing in their way. They exploit cultural divisions to sow discord and distract from their own failures to deliver meaningful change.

The polarization in society has reached a point where implementing solutions to major public policy issues has become nearly impossible. Divisions along political lines have created gridlock in addressing critical challenges such as the national debt, budget reform, foreign aid, border protection, and tax policy. Rather than engaging in constructive dialogue and compromise, politicians and the public alike are entrenched in their ideological camps, unwilling to consider alternative perspectives or seek common ground. 

This polarization not only paralyzes government institutions but also undermines trust in the democratic process, hindering progress on issues that require bipartisan cooperation and innovative solutions. Without bridging the divide and fostering a culture of collaboration, we risk perpetuating societal stagnation and failing to address the pressing issues facing our nation.

Now is the time for principled conservatives in North Carolina and across the country to speak out against the dangers of populism and reaffirm our commitment to the values that have made America great. We must reject the politics of fear and division and work together to build a more inclusive, prosperous, and just society.