By Steve Woodward
In the closing hours of the July 10 business session of the North Carolina Republican Party convention, the stifling hall, packed like the last flight out of Kabul, had the aura of a modern day Third World shelter after a Cat-5 hurricane.
Of course, cell phone reception was abysmal. The WIFI was insecure and unreliable (and generally inaccessible for those without a room reservation in the nearby Sheraton). Nearby, lines formed to enter restrooms. Announcements were obscured by the din of a hostile audience. Men in suits were huddled in remote corners trying to agree on the least bad solutions.
So, what did we learn in Greensboro after a 12-hour marathon Saturday? The only thing now emptier than the soul of the party is the shuttered adjacent mega-shopping mall, Four Seasons, which resembles Chernobyl post-1986.
The take-away from Greensboro certainly was not anticipated and sent many state Republicans away contemplating how we go forward into a consequential election cycle that concludes in November 2024.
The restlessness among the Koury Convention Center audience of 1,800+ was palpable. Perhaps it was due in part to uncomfortable seating akin to stepping into a row in the cabin of a discount airline (with eight middle seats). But the sources ran deeper, partially owed to the reality that we are a party led by stalwarts across 100 counties, and the stalwarts have heard repeatedly about the NC GOP’s commitment to election integrity. Cell phone issues would have not mattered, but the integrity czars the day before had assured delegates that using them to vote for party chair and vice chair was the best choice.
Integrity proponent and party chair Michael Whatley was re-elected on a platform that he deserves to put before us – under his chairmanship Republicans have won, and won, and won, consequential elections. Foremost among them, the victories in 2022 that secured a majority vote on the state Supreme Court.
Later Saturday, President Donald Trump strode onto the stage, reaffirming by his opening remarks that he appreciates Whatley, anti-establishment N.C. congressman Dan Bishop, and his ranking colleague, Moore County’s U.S. Representative Richard Hudson. This is one reason Trump perseveres. He understands that without the connection between grass roots folks and his larger-than-life persona, he’s just another status quo Republican, aka, the last thing he’d ever want to be.
What Trump likely would not have known as he approached the podium was that Whatley’s re-election was highly contentious and utterly chaotic. Many in the ballroom, while inspired by Trump, remained distracted by what they had endured earlier. Whatley was said to have won with 62 percent of the vote. But questions about the “integrity” of the process linger still. How many votes cast for worthy opponent John Kane were sent into the app’s black hole? How many votes for Whatley were cast by delegates who were not actually in the hall (as required by convention rules)? Consider the story of Melodi Fentress.
With so many questions unanswered, there seems to be not one mainstream media outlet reporting on the technical glitches that made a mockery of the chairmanship election process. When all we needed were slips of paper and a few passed hats, we sat through infuriating techno paper cuts and jeers. The app reportedly cost the NC GOP around $300,000 to develop.
“It’s not about (Kane) losing,” posted delegate, 2022 U.S. House candidate and Kane supporter Courtney Geels on Facebook. “It’s about a man (Whatley) who gets up and screams he has led the best election integrity practice of any state, a man who was nominated to be over all of election integrity for the whole country, the same man who was responsible for the chaos that ensued in the most unsecured election I have ever witnessed.”
Make no mistake, the app flap was THE story of the day – it even cancelled a $125 per person (pre-paid) VIP reception and delayed until who knows when the election of a vice chair, a consequential miscue. Party rules dictate that a vice chair is elected for two years or until a replacement is elected. Conceivably, the vote could be delayed until the 2024 convention.
Otherwise, the buzz would have been – should have been — all about the 2-to-1 vote by delegates to censure Sen. Thom Tillis (a vote taken by old fashioned head counting, not via smartphone app), followed by Bishop’s emergence as one of the few reliable conservatives in the NC GOP universe in Washington. Bishop’s steadfastness during the debt ceiling debate positions him as a guy who can run for any office he desires going forward. The establishment keepers in the convention hall squirmed as Bishop recounted the lies underpinning the so-called debt ceiling “deal” last week.
“The quarterback (House Speaker Kevin McCarthy) fumbled the football,” Bishop said, addressing the convention. “You may have heard claims that we materially cut spending. None of that is true.”
Despite establishment bloviating “this was not a step forward; it was a missed opportunity,” Bishop said, amid standing ovations by many delegates. He pledged that he will not back down from calling out hypocrisy “because the hour is too late.”
The third top story was Mark Robinson’s remarks during which he made not one mention of why he should be elected governor. He rightfully belittled Democrat opponent, sitting Attorney General Josh Stein. It was a typically rousing Robinson speech but one who did not know better could have presumed Robinson is running for President of the United States. His handlers will not even permit him to dab his sweat beaded forehead any longer with his signature red towel.
Robinson’s new signature is a line insisting he does not “want” to run for NC governor, with the inference being that the times in which we live demand that he run, just as a soldier does not want to, but must, run toward the sounds of cannons.
Until Robinson begins to lay out the life-after-Cooper plan for voters we might begin to take him at his word about what he does not want and listen more carefully to a substance laden gubernatorial candidate, one Dale Folwell.