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Rob Christensen recently noted “a number of parallels” between Donald Trump and Jesse Helms. (“Trump, like Helms, rode populist streak as outsider”).

But another parallel deserves attention. Read on.

Rob wrote:

“Both Helms and Trump were plain-spoken populists who gained much of their support from blue-collar workers and from people living in rural areas.

“Both campaigned as outsiders….

“Both were accused by critics of exploiting racial divisions for political benefit.

“Both campaigned against the news media….”

“Both tapped into deep frustration with politics as usual,” (quoting Helms biographer William Link.)

Rob also quoted Carter: “(B)oth are sort of demagogues. The main difference is that Helms did have a pretty rigid set of conservative values. I don’t think Trump does, but we just won’t know until we see.”

One thing I grant Helms: he had principles. Trump just has impulses.

Rob said both “were political innovators” – Helms “pioneering in the use of TV advertising and direct-mail fundraising” while “Trump found a way to get out his campaign message without using paid commercials…in a way that was ‘revolutionary,’ according to Wrenn.” Namely Twitter.

There is one more important parallel, familiar to those of us who tried to defeat Helms: Both mastered the art of the political and personal destruction of their opponents.

Helms & Co. pioneered not just TV ads, but negative ads. Helms was never personally popular. He could only win by making his opponents more unpopular than he was. And he was good at it.

Likewise Trump in 2016. He won the Republican nomination by destroying his opponents, insulting them, demeaning them, mocking them – “Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” “Lying Ted.” Then he did the same to “Crooked Hillary.”

Both men zeroed in on ripe targets: Helms routinely attacked Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy and the “homosexual lobby.” For Trump, it’s Mexicans, Muslims, China, disabled people, women – you name it.

Trump, like Helms, is a bully. Like Helms, he’s good at it. It makes for good political strategy.

Whether it was – and is – good for America is another question altogether.


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We Americans thrive on disagreeing and fighting among ourselves – it’s part of the fabric of our democracy. But, since the election, our natural crankiness seems to have deepened into paranoia.

Young people in colleges are demonstrating, afraid, after Donald Trump’s election, their freedom of speech is in peril. More than a few Internet websites are afraid Trump’s election means the return of the Klu Klux Klan. And gays fear that Trump – a New Yorker who favored gay marriage – is an ‘existential threat’ (don’t you loathe that phrase) to their way of life.

But wait a minute: No one’s rights were changed by the election. The laws are still the same. The Constitution is still in place. So why all this paranoia – is it more politics as usual? Or on Election Day did we, suddenly, lose faith in the strength of the Constitution and the traditions of our country?  

Paranoia’s a bother. Politics is a nuisance. But lost faith, now, that would be a real threat.

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Two Page One stories. Two men. Two very different Americans.

John Glenn was my hero when I was 12. He still is 55 years later.

Everything shut down at Martin Junior High School in Raleigh so we could watch Glenn’s flight, from launch to splashdown, including the anxiety about reentry.

All of us boys wanted to be John Glenn.

The other man in the news is Mike Adams, the UNCW professor who used his taxpayer-paid position and online platform to mock and deride a 19-year-old female student, who is Muslim, because she lacked “intellectual coherence.”

What intellectual courage he has!

His politics are immaterial. This is about character.

Bullying seems to be quite the thing in America now. After all, we have a President-elect who makes a regular thing of it.

America today needs more John Glenns and fewer Mike Adamses.


Posted in: General, Issues
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On Election Day Republicans lost their majority on the State Supreme Court, but this morning the newspaper reported – when the General Assembly returns to town next week – Republicans may try to ‘pack’ the State Supreme Court by adding two new Republican Justices.

Since the election there’s been a story – more of a rumor than a story – floating around the backrooms in Raleigh about court packing. The story may not be true. And I hesitate to repeat it. But it’s a good story so here goes: About two weeks after the election Governor McCrory sent an aide over to the General Assembly who asked the powers that be, Are you thinking of packing the Supreme Court?

It’s on the table, was the non-committal reply.

The Governor wants you to know, the aide said, He won’t appoint the two new justices. He’ll leave the appointments for Roy Cooper to fill.

As I said, it’s just a rumor. It may be just one more political fiction. But on the other hand, if it did happen, Pat McCrory deserves credit.

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Today’s paper reports that, if Republicans repeal Obamacare, some 30 million Americans will lose health insurance. Another 10 million will lose subsidies and have to pay more for insurance.

Give Donald Trump credit. He may do something President Obama never could do: get Americans to understand and appreciate Obamacare.

How’s that Make America Great Again thing working out for you?


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Will next week’s legislative session be about hurricane and fire relief – or political relief?

Will the legislature help people who lost loved ones, homes and property – or help Republicans who lost elections?

And will Republicans give Roy Cooper a nuclear weapon to use against them in 2017, one that dwarfs HB2?

Senate Republicans are mad that the voters didn’t elect their candidate Bob Edmunds to the Supreme Court. So will they pack the court by adding two more justices? Show the voters who’s really in charge? Make the Court nothing more than a rubber stamp for the legislature?

The arrogance would be breathtaking.

Of course, the Republicans already tried twice to load the court dice.

First they made it a “retention” election, with only the incumbent on the ballot. Like Kim Jong Un. The courts ruled that unconstitutional.

Then they took party labels off the Supreme Court ballots. Oops! Given the Trump tide, Edmunds might have won if he’d been identified as a Republican.

He lost because a devastating TV ad pegged him as the Gerrymandering Judge.

Do vulnerable Republican legislators, who may be up again in 2017, want to see ads pegging them as power-mad politicians bent on reversing an election for their own political gain? When they’re supposed to be helping people who are hurting?

The last Republican politician to rubber-stamp a bad legislative idea was Pat McCrory. If he’d said no to HB2, he’d be writing his second Inaugural Address, not his job application to Donald Trump.


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Last week Congress passed legislation to make our ‘missile defenses’ stronger and immediately a hue and cry went up from ‘arms control activists:’ Strengthening our missile defenses, Union of Concerned Scientists declared, would frighten Russia and China which would lead to instability.

So what do we do?

Wait and hope no rogue nation like North Korea or Iran sends a missile in our direction? Because we don’t want to offend the Russians and Chinese?

What kind of sense does that make?

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Republicans may have supermajorities in the legislature, but Governor Cooper will have a superpower: the biggest microphone in the state. Or, in today’s world, the biggest smartphone.

Forty years ago, Stephanie Bass and I were setting up Governor-elect Jim Hunt’s first press office. And we had a theory.

We had come out of the capital press corps. We had seen how politicians dealt with – or ducked – the media. Not one did it well, we thought.

We believed that Governor Hunt should try a new approach: more aggressive than past Governors – and more accessible, even when the questions were tough.

We wanted to make news, set the agenda and dominate the debate.

It worked.

The media world is very different today. The mainstream media, print and electronic, has been devastated by budget cuts. Blogs, social media and advocacy journalism have exploded.

Still, the Governor occupies the commanding heights in the battle for the public’s attention – and approval.

Witness Donald Trump and the power of his tweets.

To cite a more uplifting example, John F. Kennedy quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt as saying the Presidency is “a place preeminently for moral leadership.”

In that same speech in October 1960, Kennedy said:

“A political campaign is an important time because it gives the American people an opportunity to make a judgment as to which course of action they want to follow, which leadership, which viewpoint, which political philosophy, and it is also an important time for political parties, because it does give the political party an opportunity not merely to live off its past successes, but also consider where it is going in the future, what contribution it can make.

“That responsibility falls particularly heavily on a minority party, a party out of power, because it is its function under our system to present alternatives, to suggest better ways of accomplishing the goals which all America seeks…”

That responsibility – and opportunity – fall to Governor-elect Cooper now. And he doesn’t have to wait to take the oath of office. He can exercise that power now, from this day forward.

Democrats may not have the votes to sustain vetoes. But Cooper can put forward good ideas, like fully repealing House Bill 2, expanding Medicaid and giving teachers a real pay raise. Republicans can say no, Cooper can exercise the veto and the legislature can try to override him.

Throughout that loud and long process, Cooper can talk directly to North Carolinians. He can explain why he’s right and the Republicans are wrong.

A Governor can beat a legislature at that game all day long. Then he can take his case to the voters in the next election. And Cooper could have three chances to do that in four years.

This power of moral leadership is echoed in a great essay by Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling: “Why Pat McCrory Lost and What It Means in Trump’s America”:

“(T)he seeds of McCrory’s defeat really were planted by the Moral Monday movement in the summer of 2013, just months after McCrory took office….

“He allowed himself to be associated with a bunch of unpopular legislation, and progressives hit back HARD, in a way that really caught voters’ attention and resonated with them….

“(T)he Moral Monday movement pushed back hard. Its constant visibility forced all of these issues to stay in the headlines. Its efforts ensured that voters in the state were educated about what was going on in Raleigh, and as voters became aware of what was going on, they got mad. All those people who had seen McCrory as a moderate, as a different kind of Republican, had those views quickly changed. By July McCrory had a negative approval rating- 40% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapproved. By September it was all the way down to 35/53, and he never did fully recover from the damage the rest of his term….

“And it’s a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public’s attention, no matter what you have to do to do it. Don’t count on the media to do it itself because the media will let you down. The protesters in North Carolina, by making news in their own right week after week after week, forced sustained coverage of what was going on in Raleigh. And even though it was certainly a long game, with plenty more frustration in between, those efforts led to change at the polls 42 months after they really started.

“Keep Pounding.”

As of yesterday, the progressive movement in North Carolina has an elected leader with the power to capture the public’s attention, make news and force sustained coverage of what’s going on in Raleigh.

And lead to real and lasting change.

Keep pounding, indeed.


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A troop of determined anti-Klan demonstrators, who’d probably read the News and Observer’s story – based on an Internet website – about a ‘Klansmen for Trump’ rally in Pelham, showed up at 9am to protest. The same day – last Saturday – anti-Klan protestors gathered in Moore Square in Raleigh and across the state.

There was only one problem: Not a single Klansman for Trump showed up anywhere.

Then, about 4pm, a report popped up on the Internet: A caravan of Klansmen had been spotted passing through Roxboro.

But, still, that was as close as the demonstrators or the News and Observer got to a Klansman for Trump – an Internet report. They never laid eyes on a living breathing Klansman.

The next day, on its editorial page, the News and Observer published a column titled: Fight Fake News by Backing Real Journalism.

The column didn’t mention the elusive ‘Klansmen for Trump’ as an example.

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Millions of words have been expended the last month analyzing, over-analyzing and struggling to understand why the American people – or, at least, the Electoral College system – would make Donald Trump President.

Democrats are frenziedly trying to figure out what happened and, as usual, find somebody or something to blame.

As in: “Hillary was just a flawed candidate.” “She didn’t have an economic message.” “It’s Jill Stein’s fault.” “It’s Jim Comey’s fault.” “It’s Bernie Sanders’s fault.” “It’s Hillary’s fault for not listening to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.” “It’s the DNC’s fault.” “The Russians hacked the election.” “We’ll never win if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are our leaders.” “It’s the media’s fault.” “It’s all that fake news.” “Hillary forgot about rural and blue-collar voters.” “Rural and blue-collar voters are all racists.” “She didn’t energize enough minorities, millennials and women.” “She spent too much time appealing to minorities, millennials and women.”

As Bert Bennett used to say, “When you win, everything you did was right. When you lose, everything you did was wrong.” (Bert was Terry Sanford’s campaign manager in 1960 and Jim Hunt’s political mentor. He’s still going strong, by the way.)

But one analysis stands out to me, because it comes from somebody who had the guts (or the lack of good sense, depending on how you look at it) to actually run for office: Thomas Mills, who blogs at PoliticsNC and ran unsuccessfully for the 8th District Congressional seat this year. And who talked to real voters, not just pundits and pollsters.

Thomas wrote about a conversation he had earlier this year with a friend who worked in the 2015 Kentucky governor’s race for Democrat Jack Conway. Conway was a popular and well-known Attorney General. His opponent, Republican Matt Bevin, had never held public office and was regarded as something of a joke, like Trump. Like Clinton, Conway was expected to win easily. On Election Day, his staff was confident they would be celebrating that night.

Conway lost. By nine points.

Thomas wrote that, after he announced for Congress this year, one of his friends from the Conway campaign called:

“He warned that there’s an undercurrent of resentment among rural voters that polling is missing. They don’t really care about policy or politics because they don’t expect political leaders to deliver anything, anyway. In their minds, they’ve been so left behind and left out, that they just want to give a big F-you to the political establishment.

“He was right and the Kentucky race portended Trump’s victory. Democrats need to understand these voters. They didn’t vote against their self-interest. They didn’t even really vote for Trump or Bevin. They voted to burn down the system because they see that as in their best interest.

“The reason for their pessimism and resentment is multifaceted. It’s not just economic insecurity or racism, though both play a significant role. It’s a belief that parts of the social safety net encourage dependency and that they pay for it with their paychecks. It’s the sense that they are losing their culture. It’s the knowledge that the next generation will likely have to leave home to maintain their quality of life. And it’s the understanding that the benefits of the modern economy are going to other parts of the country. And they believe politicians from both parties have encouraged these trends while ignoring their effects on their way of life.

“These people will give Donald Trump a lot of leeway as long as they think he’s fighting for them. They’ll forgive him increases in health care premiums since they believe they were going up anyway. They won’t know, or care, that his treasury secretary worked on Wall Street or the net worth of his cabinet members.

“What they will know is that Donald Trump kept 1,000 jobs from going to Mexico when every other politician would have stood by and done nothing. Like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump feels their pain. They’ll excuse a lot of bad behavior as long as they keep believing that. And that’s what Democrats need to understand.”

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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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