Gary Pearce: Will McCrory pop Trump’s bubble?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2021

By Gary Pearce

Former Gov. Pat McCrory is something of a political punching bag in North Carolina.

But he could go from chump to champ in 2022 if he shatters the conventional wisdom that the state Republican Party belongs to Donald Trump.

In June, Trump endorsed Congressman Ted Budd in the 2022 Republican Senate primary. Conventional wisdom saw that as a mortal blow to McCrory. But two Republican strategists in North Carolina — Paul Shumaker and Carter Wrenn — think McCrory, like Toto in “The Wizard of Oz,” might expose the man behind the curtain.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Shumaker, who is working with McCrory’s campaign, “released polling last month in a memo arguing that (Trump’s) endorsement might actually hurt a Republican’s chances in the general election.”

Noting that “the memo was not paid for or commissioned by the McCrory campaign,” the Observer said: “Among the unaffiliated voters cited in Shumaker’s poll, 47% said they would prefer a candidate who pledged to help President Joe Biden’s agenda over one who voted against certifying the presidential election results. … Just 30% said they would prefer a candidate who voted against certifying the election, and 23 percent declined to answer.”

Budd voted against election certification, while McCrory said he would have voted to certify Biden as the winner. They’re running to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Burr, who was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump for inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

The poll Shumaker cited said voters prefer a Biden-endorsed candidate over one endorsed by Trump by 49-39%. Shumaker wrote: “When comparing a Trump endorsed candidate to a Biden endorsed candidate, (Republicans’) advantage with the Unaffiliated voters evaporates. Candidates for state and federal office at any level who are on the wrong side of these issues will alienate suburban voters and jeopardize Republicans’ chances of winning in 2022.”

Shumaker isn’t a disinterested source, of course. And his poll was about the general election, not the primary. But Carter Wrenn isn’t working for anybody, and he wrote in his blog about a national poll that found weakness in Trump’s support among Republicans: “Half the Republican primary voters … said Trump’s endorsement didn’t matter to them; the rest split, some for Trump’s candidate, some against.”

Wrenn said “Texas’ Special Election confirmed the numbers didn’t lie.” Trump’s candidate lost a special congressional race there last month. Trump’s candidate won a special primary in Ohio, but that’s a safe Democratic seat.

Wrenn and Shumaker are both smart, veteran strategists — from different wings of the party. Shumaker is from the Burr/Jim Martin/Jim Broyhill tradition. Wrenn is from the more ideological Jesse Helms school.

McCrory, like Shumaker, came out of the Charlotte- and Western-based Chamber of Commerce, country-club, big-business wing. He was elected governor in 2012 when nobody imagined a President Trump. He lost reelection in 2016 even though Trump carried North Carolina.

McCrory’s GOP pretty much was the state party until 1972, when Richard Nixon and Jesse Helms began bringing in white voters who didn’t like the Democratic Party’s liberal tilt, especially on civil rights.

The party changed again in the 1980s with an influx of white evangelical Christians, led by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. They opposed abortion, and they wanted tax subsidies for all-white Christian academies.

Now the GOP has changed again as Trump has brought in displaced and disaffected working-class whites — as well as the neo-Nazi, QAnon, Confederate-flag-waving white supremacists like those who attacked the Capitol.

The Senate primary next year will tell us whether North Carolina Republicans are more at home with the Chamber of Commerce or with the Proud Boys.

Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News and Observer, a political consultant, and an adviser to Governor Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000).