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Politics

Art Pope To Support GOP Without Backing Donald Trump

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NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Art Pope, the North Carolinian philanthropist and CEO of Variety Wholesalers, about how he plans to support the Republican Party without backing the party's de facto nominee, Donald Trump.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to speak now with a conservative kingmaker in a state that helped make Donald Trump his party's presumptive nominee. Businessman and GOP donor Art Pope has been credited with flipping North Carolina's legislature Republican in 2010 for the first time in more than a hundred years. Pope was a supporter of Marco Rubio and has said he will not donate to the Trump campaign. Welcome to the program.

ART POPE: Ari, thank you for having me on your show. I must correct you, though. I'm far from a kingmaker. The people in North Carolina elect the Republican majority in the legislature by 56 percent majority vote in 2010.

SHAPIRO: I know you have a reputation for modesty, but you have put a lot of effort, muscle, time and also dollars into conservative causes in the state of North Carolina. So I'm curious why you're not going to put that effort, time and dollars into the Donald Trump campaign.

POPE: I'm not supporting either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for president of the United States. Both believe that the solutions can be found in more government and big government.

Donald Trump's business has benefitted from tax abatements, tax subsidies, changes in zoning laws for his building projects. I think both of them represent what's wrong with America, now what the right solution for America is.

SHAPIRO: The RNC chair, Reince Priebus, has said politics is a team sport, and we can't win unless we rally around whoever becomes our nominee. Do you disagree with him?

POPE: Well, I do disagree with him. Each citizen has the right to vote who they think is best. There's never been a loyalty oath - at least in the Republican Party - that you must support your party's nominee. And, again, I have fundamental disagreements with Donald Trump because on so many issues, such as trade, eminent domain, the First Amendment. He is a big government populist and has very similar issues to Hillary Clinton on those topics.

SHAPIRO: You seem kind of sanguine about the idea that there are two people you will find highly distasteful on the presidential ballot this November. Are you cool with that?

POPE: I'm very clearly not cool with it. I wish we did have an alternative, a candidate for president who had the temperament and qualifications to represent and serve the country well, who believed in empowering people, giving the people more choices over their own lives than having two big government populists running.

SHAPIRO: You have always put more of your money to state causes than federal ones. And right now North Carolina has one of the most competitive governors races in the country. You, at one point, worked for Governor Pat McCrory, who's running for re-election. There's also a Senate race in North Carolina. What kind of an impact do you think Trump may have on down-ballot races?

POPE: I think Donald Trump will hurt the down-ballot races. That's why I think it's even more important to put efforts into Republican races for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress, as well as for governors in the state legislature.

A Republican Congress can act as a check against an authoritarian executive branch, as you've seen between Republican Congress and President Obama's executive actions. So I think it's going to be in the best interest of the country to have a divided government at the national level and then have offset balances at the state level.

SHAPIRO: Because you have been so active in North Carolina politics, I also need to ask you about HB2, the law that restricts which bathroom transgender people can use in public buildings. You are often described as more libertarian than socially conservative, but organizations that you funded have supported this law. What do you make of the controversy surrounding it?

POPE: I disagree with your comment, the organizations I, quote, "have funded have supported the law." The whole matter of dealing with House Bill 2 and the Charlotte ordinance is unfortunate. Before the city of Charlotte passed its ordinance, we didn't have any laws describing how a bathroom's to be used.

SHAPIRO: This was the LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance that the city of Charlotte passed that HB2 is a response to. Go on.

POPE: That is correct. What I have actually recommended is that we just take one big step back and study the matter in a calm, reasonable manner. So Charlotte were to send its ordinance that started this and then the general assembly would either repeal or modify or put a moratorium on its law and have a commission come up with a workable statute.

The LGBT community has legitimate issues. Those who have concerns about the privacy in the bathroom of women and children or men have legitimate issue as well.

So I think we should just take a collective deep breath, count to 10, go back and have a reasonable discussion and debate on what the solution is. And the solution could be going back to the status quo where you don't have government in the bathroom one way or the other anyway.

SHAPIRO: Art Pope, CEO of Variety Wholesalers, businessman and GOP donor, thank you so much for talking with us.

POPE: Thank you.