For North Carolina conservatives, election night was largely an occasion for celebration. Despite the tens of millions of dollars Hillary Clinton’s campaign poured into the Tar Heel State, Donald Trump won by almost 4 percentage points. Incumbent GOP Sen. Richard Burr also won his race relatively easily, as did many Republican members of the state legislature, who maintained their supermajorities in both houses.
Unfortunately, there was one casualty. Embattled GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, who trailed by just a few thousand votes on election night — less than one tenth of one percent — finally conceded his race to Democrat Roy Cooper last week.
Why did McCrory underperform Trump and Burr? The day after the election, liberal media outlet Slate claimed McCrory lost because of House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill”:
Perhaps the clearest indication that McCrory was done in by HB2 is the fact that Donald Trump carried the state by four percentage points, a surprisingly big victory. That means several hundred thousand people who voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton also voted for Cooper over McCrory. By the time voters went to the polls this fall, HB2 had come to define McCrory, and he had embraced the bill as his legacy. It seems that embrace proved so toxic that many voters willing to support Trump could not bear to support McCrory as well.
In their rush to portray HB2 as “toxic,” Slate forgot to mention that only two of the 89 GOP state legislators who voted for HB2 lost their re-election to Democrats. If HB2, a bill that promotes the common sense and decency of not letting men into showers and locker rooms with young girls, were as toxic as claimed, far more GOP legislators would have lost their jobs, and the GOP would have surely lost its supermajorities in both houses of the North Carolina legislature. That didn’t happen.
Trump even came out in support of the supposedly “toxic” HB2 in July. Trump, of course, won both the presidency and the state of North Carolina. So why did McCrory lose?
Let’s Start at the Beginning
Let’s take a moment to recall how HB2 first came about. In February 2016, the Charlotte City Council passed Ordinance No. 7056, which mandated that all businesses or organizations open to the public provide accommodations to people regardless of their “sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
This meant that private businesses, religious organizations, and even possibly churches — which are “open to the public” — would be forced to accept a grown male’s newfound “right” to use the same public restrooms and showers as young girls, or face government persecution to the fullest extent of the law. Put simply: allow men in women’s locker rooms and showers, or go to jail.
When McCrory called a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal Ordinance No. 7056, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts responded in a tweet:
Discrimination is never right. Shocked #ncga is still considering hurting job growth and tourism in NC. Hope cooler heads will prevail.
— Mayor of Charlotte (@CLTMayor) March 3, 2016
Notice the language there? “[H]urting job growth and tourism”? From the very beginning, the Left sought to strategically demonize HB2 over economics, not over the bill’s actual “bathroom” provision, which North Carolina voters generally supported. Instead of fighting on the issue’s merits, which was likely to result in political failure, progressives enlisted the help of elite corporations, sports leagues, and Hollywood celebrities to punish North Carolina families by pulling economic development from the state.
They launched corporate boycotts. They took away the NBA All-Star game. They cancelled sold-out concerts. Then, after ensuring the economic pain would be as excruciating as possible for residents of North Carolina, Cooper and the Democrats blamed McCrory. The Left essentially staged an economic crisis in order to win an election. Nasty.
By the end of the campaign, the media was running daily stories about how North Carolina had lost $600 million… or $1 billion… or even $5 billion in prospective economic investment because of HB2. (Don’t ask how they came up with those numbers — probably the same math the Obama administration used to calculate jobs “saved or created.”)
Cooper followed the media’s lead. Outside calling it a “discrimination” bill, Cooper focused exclusively on HB2’s supposed economic impact, never mentioning the central issue of whether grown men should have a right to join young girls in bathrooms, changing rooms, and showers. Here’s an example of a typical Cooper quote on HB2: “HB2 not only writes discrimination into our law, but it is also hurting our economy, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. It has costs thousands of jobs and it has put a tarnish on our reputation nationally.”
After branding HB2 as a job-killer and connecting it to McCrory, Cooper and the Democrats spent millions of dollars attempting to make the bill the defining issue of the race. Happy to be of assistance to the Democrats, the media piled on. And on. And on. And on.
The strategy may have helped deliver Cooper a victory, but just barely. Had McCrory raised a few hundred thousand dollars more — or had conservative outside groups given him just a little more help — there’s no doubt the narrative would be very different today. Instead of HB2 being a supposed albatross around McCrory’s neck that brought him down, McCrory would have been vindicated in his defense of religious freedom and his opposition to progressive gender ideology. Liberals would be forced to further self-examine and wonder if they pushed too hard on the radical LGBT agenda.
Now This Will Happen Again
But a win is a win, whether by 0.1 percent or 10 percent. Elections play a role in how we view our political reality. Because of that, we must understand that the Left believes they have now found a strategy that works. This isn’t the first time they have aligned themselves with corporate and entertainment elites to extort voters, and, emboldened after what they see as a victory, they will likely to do it again.
Think back to 2014 in Arizona, for example, where big businesses such as Apple, American Airlines, and AT&T helped scuttle a religious freedom bill when they pressured Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to veto it. Or recall the case of Indiana in 2015, where threats from corporations such as Salesforce and sports leagues such as the NCAA ultimately weakened the religious freedom law passed in that state.
The Left has quickly learned that corporate and entertainment elites can easily bully GOP leaders, and North Carolina was the latest state where they attempted to push this advantage. McCrory, to his credit, refused to back down like previous GOP governors had, and that made him an especially ripe target for Democrats, who recognized the importance of defeating McCrory to keep their “winning” strategy intact.
How to Prepare for the Next Battle
So how should conservatives proceed? This is bad, right? Not really. Conservatives should take heart. Cooper outspent McCrory by nearly $8 million. McCrory faced an all-out assault from corporate elites, the sports-entertainment complex, Hollywood celebrities, and pop music performers. He went up against a hostile media intent on making him Public Enemy Number Two (behind Trump, of course). Despite all of this, he still lost by less than a few thousand votes — less than one tenth of one percent — a virtual coin flip.
Yes, while it’s safe to say the “economic impact” of HB2 played some role in McCrory’s defeat, it likely wasn’t the only reason he lost. McCrory’s controversial plan to add toll lanes to I-77 certainly hurt him with thousands of voters in Mecklenburg County, a previous McCrory stronghold where he severely underperformed other Republicans in 2016.
Meanwhile, Republicans maintained their supermajorities in the North Carolina state legislature. Let the record show: HB2 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If HB2 were truly the driving issue for voters, and if Cooper’s election truly represented a mandate against HB2, there’s no doubt North Carolinians would have voted for change in their state legislature. They didn’t.
We know the Left’s strategy now. We know how they are going to handle religious freedom and gender issues. We know they will collude with their corporate and entertainment allies in an effort to punish those who hold traditional values. We know they will likely have the fundraising advantage that comes from being the party of elite millionaires and billionaires. We know that when they can’t win on the merits of an issue, they plan to hit us where it hurts — our checkbooks.
Despite all this, we know we can win. Their shameful bullying strategy backfired across the nation on election night, especially in “Rust Belt” states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and yes, even to some degree in North Carolina.
Most Americans don’t agree with Democrats that grown men should be using the same public facilities as young girls or that religious schools and charities should be shut down if they stand up to radical LGBT bullies. Democrats know this, which is why they desperately staged an economic crisis in North Carolina to win a governor’s race by less than one tenth of one percentage point. That’s hardly a victory. We can win — and we will win — as long as we are willing to fight.