In a surprise move this past December—just 30 hours before the filing deadline for re-election—Rep. Mark Meadows announced he would not be running again in 2020. The GOP primary election in his heavily Republican district is just around the corner, on March 3. Meadows appears to have a favorite—Lynda Bennett—a friend of Meadows’ wife. But Bennett might not be the philosophical or political equivalent of Meadows, even if the two are friends. While Meadows has been an unfailing, diehard Trump supporter, Bennett’s history is suggestive of having been a diehard Ted Cruz fan and a Never Trumper—at least until well into in 2016, and possibly beyond.
Meadows endorsed Trump just after his win in the 2016 Indiana Republican primary. Prior to that, he had been a Ted Cruz supporter. So, it seems, was Bennett.
A founder and the Chair of the Haywood County 9-12 Project through at least June 2017, Bennett was featured holding a Ted Cruz presidential campaign sign in a February 2016 Haywood 9-12 TEA Party tweet. But unlike Meadows, who quickly moved to back Trump after his Indiana primary victory, Bennett’s opposition to Trump seemed stronger—and lasted longer—than her friend’s husband, whom she now seeks to replace.
Through 2016, and even in 2017 when Bennett was still its Chair, the Haywood 9-12 TEA Party’s Twitter feed offered a litany of Never Trump commentary. The feed’s content is suggestive of Bennett having had access to the account or at least the ability to dictate its content. Setting aside her Chairmanship of the group, an October 31, 2016 tweet incudes an image showing a sign for Heritage Realty, for whom Bennett acts as a realtor in its Maggie Valley office—it even uses the same number listed on the sign in the tweet, the same one used by Bennett’s main office today.
While it remains unclear whether or not Bennett was directly responsible for what went out in the group’s social media pages, there are some pretty extreme images the account put out or supported with a retweet, including this one:
— 9-12/TEA WNC (@912wnc) February 11, 2016
In September 2016, Bennett was captured in audio speaking as “a Never Trump” person. Her campaign’s explanation seems to be that she was impersonating a Never Trumper. But the fact that she was a Cruz supporter, and Cruz only moved to endorse Trump on September 23, 2016 after a fiery, anti-Trump Convention speech—and that many of his supporters took a long time to fall in line with the endorsement, or indeed never did— suggests that might not be the whole truth. One leading Never Trumper I consulted about this story told me Bennett sounds too earnestly like a Never Trumper in the audio and eerily similar to other, still Never Trump conservative women who supported Cruz in the 2016 election—that is, unless she has a secret sideline as an award-winning actress.
Here’s what Bennett says in that September 2016 meeting (audio begins at about 0:40):
I’m a Never Trump person, I don’t want Trump. I am a Never Trump [inaudible] I want him taken off that palm card or I’m not helping you guys, that’s what I’m hearing. So Never Trump is a big movement, and you guys are all denying it. And you’re acting like, well I can be never this person, I can be never that person, but you can’t be Never Trump. And you can’t be Never Trump. But I’m Never Trump, so now what? What are you going to do? You’re gonna ask me to get out there and help Trump get elected and you want me to help organize 100 people to come and work the polls to get Trump elected when I am not for him, I am against him. Never Trump! Never Trump!
Trump famously distrusts those who do not offer him 100 percent loyalty, and generally does not act as their ally or champion. So, Bennett may well have Meadows’ backing—it does look a touch like he strategically timed his decision to give her an advantage and sources say he is working DC reporters in her favor.
But if she’s hoping to win Trump’s endorsement before the primary, that may prove much harder to get. Watch this race—it could get interesting.