When I first met former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory during the summer of 2017, he was still fresh off of his 2016 election loss, when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper prevailed by approximately 10,000 votes. We spoke often in those days, as he recounted stories from his time in office with the idea that we might one day compile them — the building blocks for a potential memoir about a political career unduly cut short by a policy decision whipped into a national frenzy.
Perhaps he was one of the earliest casualties of this now-pervasive trend of “cancellation.”
As we know can unfortunately be the case, an entire political career — an entire life for that matter — can be condensed down to a single phrase, reduced to a slogan that obscures the totality of one’s accomplishments. For McCrory, it became “the bathroom bill” (shorthand for House Bill 2), which, among other provisions, required people to use the public restroom that corresponded to their biological sex at birth. The latter portion of the bill, once signed into law by McCrory, would cause a national controversy that resulted in numerous celebrities, film studios, and sports leagues pulling events and film and TV productions out of North Carolina.
Although it can be difficult to attribute a given election result to a single cause, there is no doubt that the reaction of businesses and the national media to House Bill 2 featured prominently in McCrory’s narrow defeat for reelection.
But now McCrory is back, having announced his bid last month for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by retiring incumbent Richard Burr. (According to recent polling, McCrory is leading his current primary competitors by about 30 percentage points.) This time around, he has made clear that he is wise to the tactics currently in vogue for aiming to discredit Republican candidates and office holders.
Just as last time, using businesses and corporate actors is part of the left’s strategy. Leveraging professional sports brands — as we saw recently in Georgia — is a key component, although technology companies and their hair-trigger readiness to censor different perspectives is an even greater factor. As McCrory has pointed out, such corporations have had much to say about political practices in places such as North Carolina or Georgia, but remain glaringly tight-lipped about other locations they eagerly do business, such as China and the Middle East.
One of the go-to tactics favored by opponents of conservative politicians is to exaggerate divisions within the Republican Party. This makes sense, given that even the most casual students of political science know that, in a two-party system, the best one party can do to gain an advantage is to drive a wedge into the opposing party. It is no coincidence that left-leaning news outlets endlessly feature clips of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) suggesting the GOP is sinking like the Titanic or focus ad nauseam on the latest drama between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). This is the sort of framing McCrory expects during the upcoming Republican primary in North Carolina.
However, his suggested antidote to this strategy — while not dismissing legitimate policy disagreements between different factions within the Republican Party — is to keep the focus on concrete policies being pursued by the Biden administration that hamper the economic growth and social stability of the nation. These may include the ongoing border crisis, the tacit support for various policing changes that have likely resulted in surging homicide rates in urban areas, and policies that disincentivize returning to work. Rather than working actively to mend any differences within the party, the idea is that some of the policies favored by the Biden administration will do the unification work by themselves. McCrory is right in thinking so.
Perhaps more than anything, McCrory’s candidacy demonstrates that cancellation attempts need not be permanent. One can put himself forward and let voters — rather than businesses and media outlets — decide for themselves. As for how it plays out, North Carolina’s Senate race will be a worthwhile test case.