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North Carolina - Republicans

18
Maybe I should apologize. But would Bob Rucho apologize? No sir! So I’ll double down, as they say.
 
My blog yesterday – warning that the next Congress might be run by people who think like Rucho – apparently ruined the Christmas spirit for some Democrats.
 
My friend Jerry Wayne Williamson of Boone (follow him at @JerryWilliamso1) wrote, “Well, Merry Christmas to you too! That's the most depressing thing I've read all morning!” Long-time colleague June Milby said, “Gary, It's the Christmas season, even Scrooge was redeemed right there at the end. Don't hit us too hard with the ghosts of Christmas past. There's plenty of time in January for that!
 
I can’t help it. And here I go again. Spoiler alert: This could really ruin your Christmas.
 
Here it is: Think about the chances that the 2014 elections could be even worse for Democrats than 2010 was.
 
Historically, second mid-term elections are disastrous for Presidents. See LBJ in 1968, Nixon/Ford in 1974 and Reagan in 1986. There are exceptions, like Clinton in 1998.
 
But here’s a disturbing poll finding from this week, a nugget that the Washington Post called “one very bad number for Obama”: The Post-ABC poll asked whether people trust Obama or the Republicans in Congress to do a better job "coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years." Forty-one percent said they trusted Obama. Forty-one percent said they trusted Republicans in Congress.
 
Let that sink in. Think about how the Republicans in Congress have done their jobs in recent years: the shutdowns, the shakedowns and the sheer nuttiness. Then tell yourself: Americans trust that crowd just as much as they trust the President.
 
This reflects, of course, the disastrous debut of Obamacare. Maybe, as some pundits predict, that will be gone and forgotten next November. Maybe not.
 
Thus far, experience tells us that when Obama is on the ballot, all goes well. Maybe it’s that people just feel good voting for him. But when he’s not on the ballot, look out.
 
And make no mistake: For better or for worse, the 2014 election will be a referendum on Obama. There is no escaping it. Even worse, there is not a lot that down-ballot candidates, from Senator Kay Hagan down, can do about it.
 
So, as Democrats enjoy Christmas and prepare for a new year, they need to plan for the worst, hope for the best and work like hell.

 

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17
Don’t underestimate the chances that people who think like Bob Rucho might control Congress a year from now.
 
Behind Rucho’s tweet and the budget battle in Washington is a death match between the Tea Party and the GOP Establishment.  If the Tea Party wins that war, and if Obamacare sinks Democrats in November, the Tea Party could end up in charge. Compared to what will come after that, the Gingrich-Clinton battles of the late 1990s will look like a, well, tea party.
 
So if you’re tempted to dismiss today’s right-wing rants and tweets, heed the warning signs.
 
Yes, Rucho’s tweet was condemned by Establishment Republicans like state Chair Claude Pope (one TAPster said: “He reads your blog!”) and Senator Jeff Tarte, who is Speaker Thom Tillis’ friend, neighbor and political ally. But Tea Party leaders leapt to Rucho’s defense, and what he said is right down the Tea Party-Fox News party line.
 
Then there is the PPP poll finding that Kentucky Republicans say they like Rand Paul (Tea Party) better than Mitch McConnell (Establishment) by a 59-27 margin.
 
Then there is Senator Richard Burr’s flip-flop on the bipartisan budget compromise. Politico reported that “North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a close friend of (Speaker John) Boehner’s, said last week he’d vote to advance the deal, but on Monday he changed course and decided to sustain a filibuster, a spokesman said.”
 
Democrats underestimated the Republican right wing before: After the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Then Ronald Reagan came along and almost derailed Nixon in 1968. Eventually, the right wing took over the GOP and then the White House and Congress.
 
It can happen again.
 

 

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16
Sometimes all you have to do is repeat a politician’s own words. Like Senator Bob Rucho’s tweet: “Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis,Soviets & terrorists combined.”
 
(Note to grammar cops: Yes, his tweet said “has,” not “have” and “then,” not “than.”)
 
It appears from Rucho’s Twitter profile that the tweet was posted at 4:41 am Sunday. Maybe he was hacked. Or maybe 4:41 am is not a good time to be tweeting. You’re up either too early or too late.
 
This gives Democrats an opportunity. They can ask random Republicans: Do you agree with Senator Rucho?
 
First let’s ask state GOP Chair Claude Pope. He has shown he does not tolerate comparisons to Nazis.
 
Pope pounced this summer when columnist and UNC-TV host D.G. Martin made an oblique reference to Nazis in a column about North Carolina politics.
 
Pope called Martin’s column "inexcusable, disgusting and shameful." He called on UNC-TV to suspend Martin's show, lest his comments "damage the reputation of an otherwise upstanding organization.”
 
“It’s a shame that UNC-TV televises such a divisive, toxic personality with our taxpayer funds,” he went on. "We call on UNC-TV to suspend this program while they evaluate their relationship with their host who made such an outrageous and damaging comparison. Such divisive hyperbole only serves to confuse and trivialize issues that are important to North Carolinians, who all deserve a formal apology.”
 
Both Carter and I posted blogs pointing out how much of a stretch it was to say D.G. had compared Republicans to Nazis.  Carter wrote, “Ole Claude, out of paranoia, foolishness, or a plain mean streak, indulged in a fact twist.”
 
Nevertheless, D.G. stood up and said: “I'm very sorry that I offended some people, and I apologize. Period."
 
Will Claude Pope hold Senator Rucho to the same standard to which he held D.G.? Will any big-name Republican have the courage say Rucho went too far? Will Rucho apologize?
 
We’re all atwitter with anticipation.

 

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13
Both President Obama and Governor McCrory are learning that reforming health care can be harmful to your political health. Their politics are different, but their experiences are strikingly similar.
 
Both are trying to make big changes in the health care system, Obama with the Affordable Care Act and McCrory with Medicaid privatization.
 
Both have had a hard time explaining exactly what they’re doing. Few people can explain in a few words what Obamacare does. Few grasp what McCrory is trying to do with Medicaid.
 
Both have had trouble with websites and computer glitches.
 
Both operate in a poisonous, polarized political and media environment with political opponents who are poised to pounce.
 
Both face skeptics in their own party.
 
Both have Cabinet secretaries who have become piñatas for blame and calumny.
 
From both, the lesson is the same. Health care is big, and it’s complicated. You better be clear about what you’re doing. You better not underestimate the obstacles. And you better bring your A game.

 

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05
A TAPster who is a veteran of corporate America and the Raleigh political scene offers another take on Governor McCrory and the Charlotte Observer column:
 
“Gary's blog 'McCrory under siege' and the Observer story that prompted it are revealing, but the governor's thin skin and ego are not the weaknesses that doom the McCrory administration.

“Being a governor is about being a tough manager, a thoughtful strategist, a bully and a visionary. McCrory is none of these, which is a sad surprise to his disappointed friends around the state. He has no idea where his team is headed, and his floundering, undisciplined (yet well compensated) team certainly doesn't either.

“An example of this was the sidewalk exchange this week between Art Pope and Rev. William Barber with a gaggle of citizen and media witnesses. No boss in his right mind would encourage an atmosphere where a senior staffer would think freelance banter is ok, but it's ok on Team Pat. In most organizations, such a misdeed would lead to a firing.

“The Observer article painfully noted that Pat often doesn't always make sense
when he talks. If he can’t articulate his message to a newspaper reporter in a way that makes sense, he certainly can’t articulate a vision if he had one. He whines about negative media coverage, but that makes him looks like, well, a whiner.
 
“No organization can survive if the boss is a thin-skinned, egotistical whiner – and not much else.”
 

 

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04
To show he isn’t “obsessed with his image,” Governor McCrory sent a response to the Charlotte Observer that showed he is, in fact, obsessed with his image.
 
This calls to mind Virginia Sen. William L. Scott. In 1974, New Times magazine labeled Scott the country's "dumbest" congressman. Scott called a press conference to deny the charge. He “met with a notable lack of success,” one observer noted.
 
Two things got Governor McCrory in this fix. First, he had 90-plus minutes with an editor who has been sympathetic and supportive. But McCrory apparently spent most of the time complaining about what the media is saying, not talking about what he is doing.
 
Second, he keeps reinforcing the impression that he is careless with facts. So we wonder: Is he ill-informed, or is he deliberately trying to mislead?
 
Neither one is good. And either one can hurt him. He is getting hurt now because political insiders suspect he is lacking in either intellect or integrity. Eventually, he could lose the trust of the public.

 

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03
Governor McCrory certainly isn’t the only politician “obsessed with his image.” But he shows it more than any politician I’ve ever seen.
 
Read Taylor Batten’s remarkable and revealing account of his hour-and-40-minute interview with the Governor. Batten, editor of the Charlotte Observer’s editorial page (which endorsed McCrory for governor) wrote: “This is a man obsessed with his image and how he’s portrayed. It’s clear he doesn’t go a day without being deeply frustrated by what he sees as unfair attacks on his good name.”
 
Three things come clear. First, it’s easy to get under McCrory’s skin. Second, he reads and remembers everything that is the least bit critical. Third, he can’t remember where he read it or who said it. He criticizes the media for getting things wrong, but he gets wrong what they got wrong.
 
You’re left with the impression of a man who is over his head and about to go under.
 
At one point, the Governor asked Batten: “What are the other eight things I said wrong by the way?...You had an editorial where ‘McCrory’s misstatements. Eight misstatements.’ I forget how many.”
 
Batten: “I tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about, and an adviser points out that he’s thinking of a news story written by a (Raleigh) News & Observer reporter.
 
McCrory says: “No. That was their editorial. Or was that a repeat? Maybe, I don’t know which ones I’m reading.”
 
Indeed he doesn’t.
 
It’s going to be a long three years, Governor.

 

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02
So long as politicians exercise – and abuse – power, we need the press and professors around to question power. But it looks like Republicans in Raleigh want to shut down questions and shut up critics.
 
This after Governor McCrory promised to run an open, transparent administration.
 
First, McCrory’s highly paid PR flacks say they aren’t being paid enough to fulfill their legal obligation to provide public records – that is, records about how our government is working and how our tax money is being spent. No, they want to charge extra for that.
 
Then, McCrory’s political allies at the Civitas Institute demanded emails from Gene Nichols, a UNC law professor who is prone to castigating the Republicans. Maybe Nichols, like the Governor’s flacks, should charge Civitas a few thousand dollars for his time and trouble.
 
Suspicious minds wonder whether the next story will be about pressure on UNC to get rid of Nichols. (“Will no one rid me of this troublesome professor?”)
 
Which would be a modern reprise of the Speaker Ban Law. Which will damage the reputation of North Carolina’s universities. Which will discourage bright, entrepreneurial people from coming to North Carolina.
 
History is replete with the shattered careers of puffed-up politicians who tried to silence their critics. Whatever short-term gains McCrory & Co. think they’re getting here, they will pay a high price down the road. That’s a truth they can’t suppress.
 
The question is whether any Republican leader in Raleigh realizes how wrong-headed – and ultimately self-defeating – this course is.

 

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29
Thanks to Senator Bob Rucho for serving up a heaping holiday helping of hilarity: “JFK could have been the founder and leader of the Tea Party.”
 
Let’s let JFK answer himself. In the 1960 campaign, he said: “I have yet to hear of one single original piece of new, progressive legislation of benefit to the people, suggested and put into a fact by the Republican Party.”
 
Also in 1960, he defined himself this way: “If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal’, then I'm proud to say I'm a ‘Liberal’.”
 
As to Rucho, let us quote Lloyd Bentsen: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

 

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25
Now, that’s positively Orwellian. And it’s the latest in a long string of eye-catching – and embarrassing – statements by Governor McCrory.
 
Two weeks ago, John Frank wrote in the N&O: “At least a dozen times in his first 10 months as governor, McCrory’s remarks have sparked controversies. McCrory is prone to misspeaking. He generalizes in a way that can insult key constituencies. And he mispronounces the names of even his closest aides.”
 
So now it’s a game to keep score on when the Governor, instead of “stepping on toes,” as he likes to say, is tripping over his own feet.
 
But wait, there’s more. McCrory also said, “If you survey most Democrats, they also agree with our laws and voter ID.”
 
That may have been true at one time. But no more. Democratic support is dropping as more and more Republicans tell the dirty little truth that McCrory won’t admit: There is no problem with voter fraud. This law is intended to keep Democrats from voting.
 
But we’re not done yet. McCrory also said controversy over the voter-suppression law is “much ado about nothing.”
 
“Nothing”?  Suppressing a citizen’s right to vote is “nothing”?
 
Three things here. One, the Governor’s staff needs to recognize that he’s prone to these stumbles when he’s doing national-media interviews. He gets careless, and he overreaches.
 
Two, these things can add up and do real damage to a politician’s image. You can develop a credibility gap like LBJ and Nixon. Or become a punch line like Sarah Palin.
 
Three, history’s judgment awaits. A thoughtful Governor might ask himself: Do I really want to be known as the Governor who tried to block African-Americans, young people, women and older people from voting?
 
Because he will be.
 

 

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