“I’m cutting up the credit card,” then-Governor Pat McCrory said flippantly. The context was an unprecedented cut in unemployment benefits that had been crafted behind closed doors by business lobbyists and signed without a thought by the new, in-over-his-head North Carolina governor. It would take only months, when a large poultry processing plant shut its doors, for the repercussions of this heartless decision to become manifest. Years later, during the COVID pandemic, it would prove to be a disaster.
Not even the right-wing leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly objected when federal budget-writers poured emergency unemployment relief into the state after the onset of the economic lockdown. But McCrory, typically an obedient lapdog of Phil Berger and Tim Moore, has decided to get to their right. In an interview with local reporters, the newly minted Senate candidate said he was “proud” to have cut North Carolina’s unemployment benefits and chided Donald Trump for being too generous to jobless Americans.
McCrory is no policy wonk, nor does he grasp the moral weight of decisions made by the state and federal governments. In all likelihood this volley into ultra-right-wing land was a maladroit effort to distinguish himself as a True Conservative. He’s been on that mission since 2008. From his impetuous stand against stem cell research to his fervent embrace of HB2, the man who long ago was a moderate has devoted himself to right-wing ingratiation.
The remarkable thing is how clumsy this effort was–and how politically counterproductive. Liz Cheney just showed that getting to the right of Trump is no recipe for success in today’s Republican Party. So McCrory’s callousness is unlikely to get him far in a Republican Primary. Further, it opens him up to attacks on a vulnerable part of his record that was buried under the mountain of failures that Roy Cooper brought to bear against him in 2016. Consider the attack line: Pat McCrory denied you unemployment benefits once. Now he wants to do it again in a pandemic.
This incident demonstrates McCrory’s clumsy political instincts and lack of substance. It would be fascinating if his GOP opponents took the Trump-populist line on UI policy, but even barring that the one-term governor has opened himself up to attacks. McCrory caused enormous suffering for unemployed North Carolinians. It’s gone on for years. His chickens are about to come home to roost.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.