It was a head-snapping moment during the impeachment trial: North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr voted to convict former President Donald Trump, joining with six of his fellow Republican colleagues.
In the days since, the central committee of the North Carolina Republican Party voted unanimously to censure Burr over his ‘guilty’ vote.
What does the NC GOP’s decision to censure Burr say about the future of the Republican Party? And what impact, if any, could it have on North Carolina’s fast-approaching 2022 U.S. Senate race to replace Burr, who is not running for re-election?
On Sunday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, offered a prediction during an appearance on Fox News.
“My dear friend Richard Burr, who I like and have been friends to a long time, just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs,” he said.
Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, has so far not ruled out a Senate run in her native state.
So, is Sen. Graham right?
Michael Bitzer, who teaches politics at Catawba College, says that the censure vote against Burr sends a message about the direction of the GOP.
“It is very apparent that the Trump power base within the Republican Party is very much in control,” he said. “And that may dictate who gets the nomination in terms of running in 2022.”
In North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest, another name is already in the Republican ring: former Congressman Mark Walker.
Appearing on Fox News, he brushed aside Graham’s analysis.
“Lindsey [Graham] is always confident but not always right. That’s what we have to focus on. Listen, we can’t control what anybody else is doing,” Walker said.
What could Lara Trump entering the race mean for someone like Walker? Bitzer argues it will likely make their job harder.
“It's still hard for me to see a non-Trump last name versus a Trump last name ... I'd have to put the odds on the Trump last name just because it's family. It’s personal. It’s that kind of dynamic that we’re seeing in the party nowadays,” he said.
When it comes to the direction of the GOP, Burr made his own view plain after being censured. In a statement, he called it a “sad day” for the state’s Republican party.
“My party's leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party and the founders of our great nation,” he said.
At the start of the trial, Burr had voted against proceeding, arguing it was unconstitutional to try a former president. However, on whether to convict Trump, Burr voted 'guilty.'
“The Senate is an institution based on precedent, and given that the majority in the Senate voted to proceed with this trial, the question of constitutionality is now established precedent,” Burr said in a statement. “The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government … Therefore, I have voted to convict.”