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Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory on "No Labels" third party, his legacy, and the GOP

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory speaks during a Trump rally in November.
Zach D Roberts
NurPhoto via Getty Images
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory speaks during a Trump rally in November 2016.

Pat McCrory says he was labeled as one of North Carolina’s most conservative governors. But how’s now joined the centrist political coalition known as “No Labels," a third party that hopes to capitalize on the perceived dissatisfaction with both Trump and Biden as presumptive presidential candidates.

Former Governor Pat McCrory has begun a new chapter after a recent unsuccessful U.S. Senate run. He has become the latest high profile political figure to join the “No Labels” party — a centrist coalition which includes big names like Joe Lieberman, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema. Civil rights advocate Dr. Ben Chavis, leader of the Wilmington 10 and former head of the NAACP, sits on the No Labels' Board of Directors.

Earlier this month, McCrory spoke to WHQR about this latest move – one which may surprise North Carolinans who have followed McCrory’s trajectory and record.

“The fact that matters is both in North Carolina and our nation, probably two thirds of the people are not content with either Biden or Trump being the nominees from either Republican or Democratic Party,” McCrory said.

The “No Labels” party has promised to put forward a third party “unity” candidate if Biden and Trump are the party's presumptive nominees come Super Tuesday.

The group has faced criticism, scrutiny, and even a high-profile departure over their intentions. William Galston, who cofounded No Labels in 2010, said in his resignation that “an independent bipartisan candidacy would hurt the Democratic nominee more than the Republican nominee.” IRS Tax filings even suggest “No Labels” biggest supporters are actually GOP mega donors.

To be clear, McCrory is still a Republican. But he claims the third party option will unite the American people and ward off partisan extremism.

“I think there's been kind of an arrogance among both Republican and Democratic Party officials, that they just assume the American people will concur with whoever they select in their respective primaries. But the surveys are showing, unlike other years that even 20 to 25%, more of the people don't want either candidate and don't want to have to hold their nose to vote,” he said.

But third parties have never been able to leverage a serious challenge in the United States electorate. So what makes “No Labels” different? McRory says this time, third party candidates have an advantage: the traditional parties – or at least their presumptive presidential candidates – have never been more unpopular.

“One survey just came out yesterday, 70% of the people don't want either Biden or Trump… And again, I'm hoping as a Republican, we select someone else, I think we've got very well-qualified candidates. But right now, I don't know if that's going to happen,” McCrory said.

That dissatisfaction may not actually translate to the ballot box, however. Polls show that despite unpopularity and clear desire to see another nominee on the Democratic ticket, the majority of Democrats would still support President Biden in 2024– even if some would do so while “holding their nose,” as McCrory put it.

In the 2020 election, The Lincoln Project promised to capitalize on disaffected conservatives who soured on then-president Trump and use them to propel Biden into office. Despite Twitter virality, a who’s who of conservative tastemaker leadership, and a groundswell of financial support, The Lincoln Project made almost no measurable difference in swing states; their block of “never-Trumpers” didn't materialize at those polls.

The truth is, as McCrory himself admits, there's never been more polarization in a Presidential election. But then what voters are actually out there that “No Labels” can persuade, if polls and recent elections show that disaffected voters still return to their home party?

Even disillusioned founder William Galston admits there's an asymmetrical quality to this division.

“The space for moderates is substantially greater inside the Democratic party than it is inside the Republican party,” he said.

Just two weeks ago North Carolina senator Thom Tilis was censured at the NC GOP convention in Greensboro. It was an extraordinary retaliatory measure over Tilis’ legislative support of the LGBTQ community through the 2022 Respect For Marriage Act and various other Democrat-led senate bills. McCrory says the Republican Party is letting down its voters, who are often identified as independents

"You know, it's the left I always accused of canceling people now. Now, my own party is canceling people” McCrory said.

Lt. Governor Mark Robinson is the current GOP gubernatorial frontrunner for McCrory’s old job. He’s on record calling queer people “Filth” and school shooting survivors “spoiled”.

Despite No Labels’ pledge against extremism, McCrory wouldn't commit one way or another to the party’s presumptive nominee to run against Attorney General Josh Stein, likely to be the main Democratic candidate. McCrory spoke positively about the other GOP primary candidates, former Congressman Mark Walker and current State Treasurer Dale Folwell – but stopped short of criticizing Robinson.

“He [Robinson] gives a good speech. He tells people what they want to hear, not necessarily what they need to hear,” he said.

McCrory has his own record with that kind of extreme rhetoric. While he was Governor, the state Republicans spearheaded the infamous HB2 bathroom bill which banned trans people from public restrooms that match their identities. The move cost the state billions in lost revenuefrom film, sports and entertainment industries.

In the years since, state houses across the country have introduced legislation targeting transgender individuals that parallel McCrory’s. In 2023 alone there were 560 bills introduced in 49 states with 83 of them becoming law.

He wouldn’t comment directly on HB2, but said it’s frustrating to see other states passing similar bills without repercussions.

“If anything, a lot of states are now doing what I signed and more. And they're not being boycotted, like we were, I found it ironic, they're not now boycotting other states,” he said.

Asked about data showing trans people experience more suicidal ideation because of this kind of legislation, McRory refused to engage and disputed the data, and said discussing limitations on the rights of trans people is a legitimate and fair debate.

While he agrees with the Republicans on many trans issues, he does take issue with election denialism.

“The transfer of power is so important. And Donald Trump did not show the high character that we demand of the executive branch at a minimum by saying the Constitution is more important than me,” he said.

Back in 2016, McCrory also challenged his election results, and even alleged ballot fraud, in the days after initial ballot results showed he'd lost the tight gubernatorial race to then-Attorney General Roy Cooper. But, as McCrory was quick to note, his challenges were legal under North Carolina election rules because of how close the race was.

“I followed the law. My election was less than 1%. It was a 5,000 [vote] difference over 4.6 million so I had every right to review the voting process[…]I conceded the election and said that Roy Cooper won and I wished him the best. I strongly disagree with what President Trump did during that time,” he said.

McCrory has said he won’t run for office in the next year, but he’ll continue to comment from the sidelines — using his political influence to support the third party.

Editor's note: The article has been updated to clarify The Lincoln Project's role in the 2020 election.

James has lived in Wilmington since he was two years old and graduated from Eugene Ashley High School in 2022. He has long-held a passion for the city’s many goings-on, politics, and history. James is an avid film buff, reader, Tweeter, and amateur photographer, and you’ll likely see him in downtown Wilmington if you stand outside of Bespoke Coffee long enough. He is currently receiving his undergraduate education from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, and intends to major in Politics and International affairs.