© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Pat McCrory, now with No Labels, is pushing a third way in US politics. Could he be a spoiler?

Pat McCrory
Pat McCrory at a lectern during his time as North Carolina governor.

On the night of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race last May, Pat McCrory was at Selwyn Pub in Myers Park.

There weren’t very many people there. Maybe 50 or 75.

They all knew McCrory was going to lose to Ted Budd, though perhaps the final margin — 34% — was surprising.

McCrory was understandably glum.

He said he wouldn’t run for office again.

Fourteen months later, McCrory insists that’s still true.

But he’s enjoying a second act — or third act, perhaps — as one of four co-chairs of the centrist group No Labels.

Depending on your view, No Labels could become a much-needed third-party alternative or a dangerous spoiler that would siphon votes from President Biden and put Trump back in the White House. The media is focusing on their possible role as a Trump-enabler, such as in this New Yorker piece, “What is No Labels trying to do?”

McCrory said the group is trying to reorient American politics towards the middle. He said the two parties are only catering to their bases and “killing civility.”

“I think the labels that the media and politicians are using are stifling,” McCrory said in an interview this week. “I have been called a moderate, a right-wing extremist, and when I ran for Senate I was called left-wing RINO.”

The other co-chairs are former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman; Larry Hogan, former Maryland Republican governor; and Ben Chavis, a North Carolina native who is a former executive director of the NAACP.

McCrory said he and Chavis have become close.

“When I first met with Dr. Chavis, I thought he would be a radical left-winger,” McCrory said. “He thought I would be a radical right-winger, based on what he’s read. We established a great friendship.”

McCrory said he was asked to join No Labels, and that he’s a volunteer.

He’s been making the media rounds promoting the group. Internally, he said one of his roles is laying out a road map as to what opponents will say and do to discredit the organization.

“I’m the person on the team that says, ‘This is what will happen to you. And these are the strategies the critics will use against us.’” McCrory said. “They will attack you personally, they will go after your family, your business. That’s the wisdom I can bring to the No Labels group.”

McCrory, of course, was vilified after he signed HB2 in the spring of 2016. That law required people in North Carolina to use the bathroom that matched the sex on their birth certificate in government-owned buildings such as schools.

The disdain for him was so intense that three years later, in 2019, a man hit McCrory’s car with a tree branch in south Charlotte. The incident started when a man was crossing the street and recognized McCrory in his car. McCrory said the man shouted at him before hitting his car.

No Labels has said it won’t field a presidential ticket unless the match-up is Biden-Trump. The group’s national convention is set for April in Dallas.

McCrory waves off the criticism that No Labels could put Trump back in the White House.

“I go against the pundits who say you are throwing the election,” he said. “I actually think that if this trend continues (of people being dissatisfied with Biden and Trump) they could be the spoiler to No Labels.”

If Biden adopted more centrist positions, would No Labels consider that a success and not challenge him?

McCrory would not answer directly.

“We’re not listening to ourselves,” McCrory said. ”We’ll be surveying the American people. Right now 60-70% say they don’t want Biden or Trump. Never before, at least in my lifetime, have we seen so many people dissatisfied with the two candidates.”

Inside Politics also discussed with McCrory some other questions, about HB2, Trump and the 2022 Senate race:

On the NBA’s decision in 2016 to pull the All-Star game from Charlotte:

McCrory said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told him they were most concerned about losing sponsors over the issue, rather than HB2 itself.

“He said, ‘We are losing some sponsors for the NBA All-Star game, and we can’t afford it’” McCrory said.

He said he thought he had reached a compromise with the NBA to keep the game in Charlotte. He said the state and the league would form a committee to study the issue, but in McCrory’s telling, the Democrats heard about the plan and stopped it.

The three main players in HB2 were McCrory, who lost his reelection bid for governor; then-Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who lost her reelection bid; and Dan Bishop, who was then a state senator and is now in Congress. Bishop was a primary sponsor of HB2, which McCrory signed into law.

On the irony of Bishop being the last one standing: 

“(HB2) was poorly written. I thought the Charlotte ordinance was wrong. But HB2 could have been much simpler. It should have just said this city can’t make this kind of law. We tried (unsuccessfully) to change that bill.”

Do people still call him out over HB2? 

McCrory said not really.

“People are mostly living their own life. People do come up to me and say, ‘Hey, when are you going to run for Senate?’ They don’t even know I just ran for Senate! There are still some areas I would be reluctant to go into. More of the eclectic left parts of town. That’s where the verbal assaults would happen.”

So you aren’t going to NoDa?

“I will, but I don’t make eye contact,” McCrory said laughing.

He then added that during the 2022 U.S. Senate race, people warmed up to him in Charlotte.

“Because Trump didn’t endorse me, I became acceptable,” he said.

On the U.S. Senate race, did he realize he was going to lose so badly in the primary to Ted Budd?

“It was over before it started, and I had no idea. I had a total blind spot (as to how important the Trump endorsement would be for Budd). Our surveys had us 30 points up early in the race.”

He said he realized four weeks before Election Day he was going to lose.

Any regrets about not criticizing Trump during his 2016 reelection campaign?

“I feel like I enabled him. I was on the campaign trail. In 2016 I was governor when he said the comment on John McCain (that he liked his war heroes not to have been captured). I tried to turn a blind eye. And I look back and think, ‘How dare you, McCrory?’ ”

On Election Day 2016, McCrory said he thought he would be reelected governor and that Trump would lose North Carolina.

“I thought I would win a close race, and his little team of four people with Steve Bannon was going to lose,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, nice knowing you.’”

As it turned out, McCrory lost by 10,277 votes. Trump won the state by 173,315.

Did you still vote for Trump?

“Twice. With great reluctance.”

On what he thinks about Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is leading in the polls and in fundraising for the GOP primary for governor:

“I won’t comment on Mark Robinson. (State treasurer) Dale Folwell is extremely well qualified. He did a lot for me as governor. He’s a good person, but he won’t raise the money.”

McCrory also said former Congressman Mark Walker is the most conservative person in the race.

This story has been updated to reflect the nature of the 2019 incident in south Charlotte when a man hit McCrory's car with a tree branch.

Sign up for our weekly politics newsletter

Select Your Email Format

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.