Roy Cooper is not an ideologue. But he is a loyal, partisan Democrat – always has been. And today’s hyperpartisan political environment suits him like a glove.

Gone are the days where politicians seek out compromise to win crossover appeal and broad support. Now, it’s all about the base. If you don’t toe the party line, the hardcore will come after you.

The governor has been vetoing a lot of bills – with little to show for it, of course. The joke around Raleigh is the surest way for a bill to become law is for the governor to veto it. In the old days, a governor facing a hostile legislature would choose their vetoes carefully – better to sign a few less-than-perfect bills here and there, or else risk looking weak when the legislature overrides you.

That’s all changed. Nowadays, signing legislation passed by the other party is surrender, capitulation. Even worse, that gives the opposing side a win – and demoralizes your team. The only alternative is to veto, veto, veto away. And if you get smacked down by the legislature – well, that’s when you go back to your base and say, “See? Look at how badly I got beaten by the Republicans. I’m one of you, and I’ve got the scars to prove it.” And so far, that’s what Cooper’s been doing – playing to his base.

The one exception to this, maybe, was the HB 2 repeal compromise. Cooper agreed to the HB 2 “fix” after ineptly sabotaging deals that were much more favorable to liberals – and only because his base’s demand for full repeal was so zany and politically unfeasible that he had no other choice.

And what effect did Cooper’s compromise have on his support from the base? Almost nil. Sure, there were tweets from liberals calling him McCrory 2.0, and the perpetual virgins comprising the “Air Horn Orchestra” staged a half-hearted protest outside the governor’s mansion. That lasted about two days. Since then, Cooper has been met with near-universal acclaim from the Left, as this diary from Daily Kos indicates. (In what was certainly a first, the diary was widely disseminated by Cooper’s staff.)

McCrory styled himself as the governor who stepped on toes of both the Right and Left. Cooper is now the governor who steps on toes – of the Right only. That’s dangerous territory in which to be. Cooper’s victory was extremely narrow and came about on behalf of Trump voters.

Already, it’s gotten him into trouble. Despite the clamors of approval from the Kos crowd, Cooper’s calling the General Assembly for a special session on redistricting was widely perceived as a partisan political stunt. Even the Charlotte Observer joined the fray, opining that Cooper’s stunt was unnecessary and only increased acrimony between Republicans and Democrats in Raleigh. And of course, the effort went nowhere, as Republicans rebuffed his call for an unusual special session-within-a-session. In the end, Cooper ended up looking like both a strong partisan and a weak executive. That’s exactly what voters – especially of the Trump/Cooper variety – do not want.

Who are the Trump/Cooper voters? They can be found everywhere in the state, but they’re particularly concentrated in the west. They’re culturally conservative, but social issues don’t drive their votes. They see Democrats as elitist and out of touch. At the same time, they’re not entirely on board with the GOP economic agenda. And most of them aren’t Yellow Dog Democrats who will vote against any Republican not named Donald Trump. In fact, they largely supported McCrory when he was first elected.

The point is that these voters are a fragile part of the Cooper coalition, just as they were a fragile part of the McCrory coalition. Their votes can be lost very easily. If Cooper develops an image as a partisan Democrat, his base will be fired up – but it will alienate the people whose votes sent him over the top.

I don’t think he’s there yet. So far, Cooper has enjoyed high approval ratings, an indication that people who voted for McCrory are giving him a chance. But if I’m right, subsequent polls will show that the “honeymoon period” is over, and the governor’s support with Republicans and independents has slid. A lack of cross-over appeal, leaving little margin for error come reelection time – it’s one of the drawbacks of being a partisan.


  1. A.D. Reed

    So Governor Cooper is in danger of squandering all the “good will” he earned with his election.

    Seems to me that the good will he has gained is all from the voters, while the bad will has been in the hands of the legislative leadership since the day after the election, when they were still trying to figure out how to sue to get the will of the people nullified. John Wynne is right about one thing: Cooper has high favorability ratings, while the GOP legislature is in the toilet.

    Overall, I’d say it’s a good thing that Mr. Wynne likes gardening and opera. It’s much harder to make a fool of oneself as a fan of those activities.

  2. Joe

    Exactly. The GOP tactic all along (at least since the Tea Party crackpots took over) has been hyper-partisanship. Divisive politics to the nth degree. Compromise means losing. And its worked so far for them. But now progressives are sick and tired of attempting to be reasonable with the party of No. Obama squandered his goodwill and retrospectively we see it as naivete. We’re done dealing with Republicans because they want it all and could care less about the average citizen. So to hell with them. You can’t reason with people who proclaim climate science a hoax, all journalism fake (except Fox News and Breitbart), Vladamir Putin preferable to Nancy Pelosi, marriage equality an abomination, sensible gun control an act of war, and tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy a healthcare plan. Go away GOP – you have no idea how to govern or legislate.

  3. Lucinda H. MacKethan

    I would like to know when the last time was that Republicans were willing to compromise. And would you please include in the subject of Cooper’s vetoes the bills he has vetoed? Bills that anyone who wants sane, moderate government, and laws that help ALL North Carolinians would veto? And as others comment, what do you have to say about the Republican GA’s moves to gut the Attorney General’s office, to take away every power from the governor that they possibly can, their move to impeach Elaine Marshall. COOPER has good will to squander? Give us a break. It suits you to paint him as a powerful, radical Democrat. But you MUST know that isn’t true.

  4. TY Thompson

    I disagree with you on the how, and why Cooper got elected. The numbers demonstrate that it was more a case of McCrory being Rejected. Specifically by thousands of one-issue voters that likely supported him in 2012. He lost a lot of voters in north Mecklenberg, a bastion of the anti-toll road movement. He was abandoned by thousands of voters on the coast who make their living from the sea when they perceived that he hurt their interests. He alienated a lot of conservative Dems whose ancestors fought under the Stars and Bars. Sooooo….sure, if Cooper can tapdance his way into the mainstream over the next 36 months, he has a good a chance of re-election as anyone, IF,

  5. HunterC

    Playing it a little safe in prognostication land, eh?

    A honeymoon period showing signs of easing six months into a 4 year term? Say it ain’t so!

    A candidate who won by 10,000 votes has a fragile coalition? Holy rear view mirror, Batman!

    Is water wet too?

  6. Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

    Wow, John Wynne, where have you been to have stored away and now released all of your strong opinions about Governor Cooper’s bad strategic moves and short-term tactics? Glad to have you back. However, you could substitute your evidence on what McConnell and Ryan (and, of course, Trump) are doing with the GOP base and reach the same conclusions about voter attitudes. Except Cooper has consistently favorable ratings from the voters and Trump and Republican legislative leaders struggle to get ratings that are not under water and slowly drowning.. Cooper’s public perceptions are still positive and holding–GOP leaders keep moving in the other direction.
    Want to make a prediction on who is going to win this battle in November, 2018?

    • John Wynne

      The difference, I think, is that Cooper has a lot more goodwill to squander – plenty of people who voted for McCrory who are willing to give him a chance. I think the next few polls will show him sliding a bit.

      The fundamentals of next year favor Democrats. It would really help them if they dumped Pelosi! It’s amazing how she continues to drive low-turnout Republicans to the polls so many years after she lost her position as Speaker.

  7. Brendan

    Right… The NCGA began systematically stripping the Governor’s office of powers as soon as the votes were tallied, but of course it’s Cooper who’s stepping on the GOP’s toes.

    • TY Thompson

      The GA stripped the Lieutenant Governor’s office back in 1988 after James Gardner got elected, too. It’s become a tradition.

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