It is hard now to remember how promising Pat McCrory’s political career once appeared. The young mayor of Charlotte, McCrory entered statewide politics with freshness and verve, battling incumbent Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue to a near tie in the 2008 governor’s race, then coasting past the underfunded Walter Dalton to take the Executive Mansion four years later. State political observers agreed the he had a strong mandate, and he appeared on not a few lists of rising national Republicans. Then came the disasters.
From the outset of his term then-Governor McCrory faced disrespect from legislators in his own party. Only a few months after McCrory took office, Senator Phil Berger steamrolled the new governor on Medicaid expansion. When summer came around and the legislature went crazy, McCrory found himself strong-armed into breaking a key campaign promise not to sign restrictions on abortion, a reversal that sent his approval ratings permanently underwater. The governor would suffer ritual humiliations at the hands of his own party’s legislative chieftains for the rest of his term before going down to defeat in November 2016–the only North Carolina governor to lose reelection 1892, and the only sitting state chief executive to fall in the year Trump bullied his way into the White House.
McCrory clearly seethed over his defeat and never gave up his dream of redemption. That’s why he began floating his name for another gubernatorial run only months after Roy Cooper ascended to the Republican’s old office, and teased runs for nearly every other office that came up for three years before finally announcing that he would not risk defeat at the hands of Dan Forest in 2020. His interviews were full of bitterness and venom toward Governor Cooper, his affect outraged and inflected with well honed grievance. And now, not long after the dust settled from North Carolina’s last U.S. Senate race, the failed ex-governor seeks to get vengeance on “libruls” by winning the seat long held by Richard Burr.
But here’s the rub. Despite early support from Republicans seeking to offer a less extreme candidate, and despite landing the state’s GOP mega consultant Paul Shumaker, indications are that fate does not favor Pat McCrory. He got torn to shreds on the MAGA internet shortly after an announcement video that fairly reeked of ingratiation to the Trump base. His campaign messaging has been as erratic and undisciplined as state political observers have come to expect. While neither of those shortcomings are insurmountable, though, what Donald Trump did to the governor last weekend may well be dispositive. Ted Budd got the Orange Autocrat’s endorsement.
Trump once again subjected Pat McCrory to a searing public humiliation. It wasn’t the first time. In the transition period between the 2016 election and Trump’s inauguration, team Trump dangled an administration post before the defeated governor. McCrory, seeing that his voter fraud allegations were unlikely to bear fruit, pursued the job eagerly. And was denied. The ex-president (and that is what he is, despite McCrory obediently calling him “President Trump”) appears to have developed some contempt for Pat McCrory and has now humiliated him to his face.
As one GOP consultant observed, Trump’s endorsement of Budd turned the Republican primary race on its head. No longer will Pat McCrory be able to coast on name recognition and residual goodwill from low-information GOPers. He now has a Trump-stamped rival and an enemy in the Orange Autocrat. Remember, Trump not only endorsed one of McCrory’s opponents, he charged the McCrory “does not represent our values.” It is likely that Budd just gained an advantage in the fundraising game relative to McCrory, even though the ex-governor still has a capable finance team in place. The risk is quite real that Pat McCrory will go down to defeat once again in another race, like 2016, that he had no business losing.
Which brings us to the title of this post. Another former governor, one Tim Pawlenty, or “T-Paw,” of Minnesota, attempted to reclaim his old gubernatorial job after a punch-line campaign for the White House. T-Paw lost the primary to a MAGA/Trump ultra. Will it happen to Pat McCrory? If his long string of humiliations, setbacks, defeats, and failures continues on the course it has followed since 2012, a Pawlenty-ing could well be in Pat McCrory’s future.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.