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08

Sunday, after the attack in California, President Obama spoke to the nation and laid out his best ideas to stop terrorism: War is still out. There is no way we’re going to use overwhelming force. It’s not in his make-up. And using the words Muslim Terrorist is still off the table.

What’s in? Gun Control.

On the theory a terrorist will stop if he can’t buy a gun legally.

This just gets sillier and sillier.

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07

The political significance of President Obama’s speech last night wasn’t what he said, but why.

Obviously, our famously no-drama Commander-in-Chief felt the seismic shift after the California killings. Weeks ago, he calmly assured us that ISIS (why does he say “ISIL”?) was “contained.” Last night, he sternly assured us he takes the threat seriously.

Forget income inequality, climate change, the budget, taxes, education, all that. All politics now is about the safety and security of Americans in their homes, workplaces, shopping centers, sports events, anywhere we go and any gathering we go to.

Republicans ramped up the rhetoric about refugees, ISIS, immigration, radical Islam and war. (But none of their presidential candidates can top Trump, which is why he’s still on top of the polls.)

Democrats, as always, have a more nuanced position. Yes, they say, keep America safe. But then they move on too quickly. They say: “Take guns away from terrorists.” All some people hear is “take guns away.”

Democrats also say we shouldn’t blame all Muslims. People get that. But they don’t get whether Democrats get the threat from radicalized Muslims.

Democrats are exactly right on both points. How can Republicans vote against a no-gun list for people on a no-fly list? And it’s wrong to blame all Muslims, as well as counterproductive.

But, as always, Democrats talk a lot faster – and a lot more – than people listen. You’ve got to get the first step right. The first step is to carry the big stick. You can speak softly later.

If you don’t get the politics and the rhetoric right, you won’t have a chance after November 2016 to get the policies and the response right.

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04

Donald Trump’s coming to Dorton Arena tonight and reporters and pundits have been calling, asking, Isn’t Trump going to be the kiss of death for Republicans?

That’s the ‘spin’ coming out of the Republican Establishment in Washington, where they’re telling Republican voters, ‘If Trump’s the nominee we’re sunk, Hillary’s in;’ and out of Hillary and the Democrats who’re saying, ‘He’s insulted women, Hispanics and African-Americans, how can we lose?’ And the pundit class is buying it hook, line and sinker – but is it truth or self-serving ‘spin?’

Yesterday when I opened Facebook there was Trump’s mug scowling back at me above the words: ‘What is Donald Trump thinking?’

If the video had been by Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton I’d have thought, Another politician, and passed on but Trump’s entertaining so I clicked and the video rolled and Trump growled: Well, the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS, and our President is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation.

I wouldn’t bet a dollar either way on who might win the Republican nomination (or the General Election) but if you think Trump’s kaput – watch the video.

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03

As soon as you heard about the California shootings, you knew what was coming next: another political shootout over gun control, Muslim refugees, mental health, homegrown terrorism, etc, etc. Right after politicians sent out their requisite “thoughts and prayers” to the victims.

And we should have all those debates.

But first take some advice from my wise friend Boweaver. He’s seen plenty of trouble in his life, starting with the Depression and World War II. He has a prescription for times like these.

To begin with: “Turn off the TV and all the big-mouths who have no real news to report and just want attention. Shut down your iPhones and your ePads and your Facebooks and your Tweeters and all those things.”

Next: “Go for a walk, in a forest or a field or along some water, if you can. Look at the sun and the sky. Watch the wind blow the leaves.”

While you’re walking, “think about the people who died and were injured. Think about their families and friends whose lives are shattered.”

Then, “be thankful for what you’ve got.”

Finally, if you’re so inclined, go back home, turn it all on again and dive right in.

Or not.

 

Posted in: General
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01

Ben Carson already knew the world was not a kind place but, unfortunately, unkindness reached out and struck him again: A quarter of his supporters abandoned him for Ted Cruz.

In a poll in Iowa a month ago Carson led Donald Trump but now he’s dropped into third place – with Cruz (at 23%) and Trump (at 25%) running neck in neck.

To Ted Cruz this must look like the blessing he’s been praying for and the culmination of months of blood, sweat, tears and brilliant political strategies – but, looked at another way, there may be a more elemental force at work here: The Winnowing Out Process.

In most campaigns there is only a limited amount of information available to voters – so candidates reach out to the voters they want and fill the void with ads saying, Here’s why you should vote for me.

But in Presidential campaigns an avalanche of information descends on voters and the Americans who follow politics with the same passion basketball fans follow UNC or Duke sit at computers happily clicking a mouse until they spot the candidate they like.

They find the candidate – he doesn’t find them.

Months ago evangelical voters in Iowa began watching and clicking and decided the candidates most like them were Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.

Unfortunately for Governor Huckabee he was also old news and never caught fire. Cruz was a new face and sounded fine. But so did Ben Carson and he had one additional virtue: No one ever confused him with a politician.

What followed wasn’t a marriage – it was more like an engagement or a courtship: Those voters began to follow Ben Carson’s every move, watching him in debates, following him on Facebook and Twitter, weighing his strengths and fretting over his weaknesses until, at the end of the day, they decided Ben Carson was not the President they’d been dreaming of. And their gaze turned back to Ted Cruz.

Ben Carson had been winnowed out.

Years ago, the first time Steve Forbes ran for President, I had dinner one night with his brother who told me, Here’s how a Presidential campaign works: First, they stand my brother up on a stage. Then they strip off all his clothes. Then they pound on him. They beat him to a pulp. It’s brutal. But, you know, if you think about it, there’s a kind of logic to it: Because anyone who can survive that ordeal probably has the strength to be President of the United States.

That’s the winnowing out process.

And, now, it’s Ted Cruz’s turn.

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01

A year from now, either Roy Cooper’s team or Pat McCrory’s team will be sifting through resumes for the next administration. The losers will be polishing their own resumes.

Right now, both teams are deep in the same two struggles: raising millions of dollars and wrestling for control of the debate. Soon, we’ll know whether McCrory has caught up after a poor fundraising start. For now, we’re watching both wrestle for the microphone. Which raises some questions.

Will the “Carolina Comeback” cut it? Clearly, this is McCrory’s mantra. Less clear is whether voters believe it exists. Or, if it does, if McCrory deserves the credit.

Will “Wrong Priorities” cut it? Is Cooper’s critique strong enough? Does it successfully tie McCrory to an unpopular legislature? It’s true that, given gerrymandering, if you’re unhappy with what the legislature has done, the only way to change it may be your vote for Governor. Ditto if you believe big givers should get less from the state and teachers and state troopers should get more.

Can McCrory neutralize negative media coverage? Whenever there’s a bad headline – and there are plenty of them – McCrory’s response is to blame the “left wing media.” That’s easier than explaining the headlines he’s had lately.

Can Cooper exploit a corruption message? Let’s count the opportunities: A donor who said his donations to McCrory entitled him to a prison contract, and he got it. Special customer service, including texts from the Governor’s personal cell phone, for other big donors. Sweetheart deals at DHHS. McCrory rode into office on a reformer wave. Will a riptide pull him right back out?

Can McCrory throw Cooper a curve ball? If wrong priorities/corruption cuts and “Carolina Comeback” doesn’t cut, can McCrory change the subject to terrorists, transgender people or some equally terrifying topic?

Will the legislature help or hurt McCrory? Next summer’s session could dictate next fall’s debate. Some Republicans would be happy to have McCrory gone, so long as they still have their super-majority.

Finally, what will the national tide be? Will Obama drag Democrats down again? Will there be a Hillary wave? Will Republicans nominate a presidential disaster or a candidate with coattails?

It’s going to be a close thing. Any of these factors can decide whether you spend the holidays next year writing budgets and legislation…or writing your friends for help finding a new job.

Ah, the joys of politics and the holiday season!

 

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30

After Paris when President Obama stood up and declared America had to summon up the courage to not ‘succumb to fear’ he sounded like Winston Churchill after Dunkirk – his words evoked echoes of long sanctified courage from General Washington on his knees in the snow at Valley Forge to the Alamo to the surrounded paratroopers at Bastonge fighting on against fearful odds.

But, then, it turned out President Obama (or O’bummer as one wit later tagged him) wasn’t urging us fight on at all – instead (after the terrorists blew up five restaurants, a concert and a stadium) he was exhorting us to find the courage not to fight – or to fight as little as possible.

It was a clever, even devilish, turn of phrase.

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30

Donald Trump is like a fever in the Republican body politic: a sign of sickness. A lot of Republicans are hoping and praying the fever breaks before the sickness infects the entire body.

Trump has owned about a third of the Republican vote in polls since he announced. That one-third gravitated to him when he labeled Mexican immigrants murderers and rapists. They stuck with him even – or especially – when he attacked other candidates and the GOP Washington establishment. They stick with him when he says things that aren’t true. They stick by him even more when he attacks Syrian refugees.

Democrats, Independents and some Republicans may abhor all that. But they get it. They get how Americans can be fearful and anxious. We live in fear-inducing and anxiety-provoking times. Clearly, Trump knows how to speak to that fear.

But last week he did something that truly makes you wonder what’s in the hearts of those who support him. He publicly mocked a physically disabled man. He made fun of the man’s disability. Trump twisted his arms and contorted his face in what he obviously thought was a hilarious imitation.

He looked like a middle-school bully mocking a disabled classmate.

We got a clear look at the real Donald Trump. It was ugly.

But we knew that. What we don’t know is how Trump’s one-third feel about it. And who they really are down deep.

In a few weeks, Republican voters and caucus-goers will have a chance to show us who they are. For all my differences with them, I want to believe they’re better than this.

 

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27

Their facts are the same. But they’re telling two different stories.

The Governor’s folks explain how Graeme Keith got his $3 million state contract this way: The Governor met with Keith and Secretary Frank Perry and Keith made his case – that it would be cheaper for his company to provide maintenance for the state prisons – and Perry disagreed.

Keith did say, at the meeting, that he’d made political contributions and it was time to see what he got in return but the Governor didn’t hear him say it – he was having a side conversation.

After the meeting, the Governor told the Budget Director to figure out who was right: Keith or Perry and the Director decided Keith was right – and gave him the contract.

The other side’s version goes like this: Keith asked Perry for a contract. But Perry said No. Keith then went around Perry to the Governor – who called a meeting. After the meeting, Perry still said No.

The Governor then took the decision out of Perry’s hands and told the Budget Director, Lee Roberts, to decide. Roberts did a brief study and gave Keith the contract.

Same facts. Two stories Who’s right?

There’re no clear answers. But there are signs.

Lee Roberts, the Budget Director, did do a study. And he did conclude Keith’s contract would save the state money. But the study was also only a quarter of a page long.

Roberts never put Keith’s contract out for competitive bids – he just gave it to Keith.

And finally, just the other day, the state did an about face and reversed course – Secretary Perry announced he’s cancelling Keith’s contract.

 

 

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25

It was like a curtain parting and catching a glimpse of a backroom filled with politicians – there, sitting in the middle of the hearing, were two of the Governor’s aides testifying and doing their best to wriggle out of the pickle they’d landed in.

A businessman – who’d given $12,000 to the Governor’s campaign – had met with the Governor and his aides and told them bluntly that he’d made his contributions and now wanted to see what he got in return.

What he wanted was a $3 million state contract.

But the Cabinet Secretary who had to approve the contract had told him no.

Which is the reason Governor had called the meeting.

But nothing the Secretary heard in the meeting changed his mind. The contract, he maintained, was a bad deal for the state.

Which didn’t sit well with the donor much at all.

The Governor solved that problem by ordering the Budget Director to take charge of the contract – which meant the Budget Director and not the Secretary would decide what to do.

The Budget Director decided the contract was a good deal and gave the donor what he wanted – but then the unexpected happened: The newspapers got wind of what had happened and the $3 million contract landed on the front pages and the Budget Director and Secretary landed in front of a legislative hearing.

Did that donor really say blunt as a corncob that he’d made contributions and wanted a contract? a legislator asked.

Yes, sir, the Secretary said, He did.

But the Governor says he didn’t hear it?

He was having a side conversation.

Later, did you tell the Governor what he said?

The Secretary was less specific. Well, no, sir… not in a detailed way.

No one asked what ‘not in a detailed way’ meant but the Secretary went on to explain that he felt what the donor had said was inappropriate but since there was no ‘quid pro quo’ he saw no reason to report it to the Governor.

Of course that part about there being ‘no quid pro quo’ sounded odd because the donor got the contract.

But that’s not how the Secretary saw it – and why seems to go back to the Budget Director: The Secretary was arguing the donor got the contract because the Budget Director said it was a good deal – not because he’d given the Governor’s campaign $12,000.

But, then, in the middle of the hearing, backroom politics took another turn and the Secretary announced at the end of this year he wasn’t going to renew the contract that the Budget Director had said was a good deal.

So the contract was a bad deal, then a good deal, then a bad deal again – but never, at any time, was it a quid pro quo.

Years ago Ronald Reagan said, ‘Watching backstage politics is like looking at civilization with its pants down.’ Amen.

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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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