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There’re two ways for a President to pass his bills: One is old-fashioned back-room arm-twisting, cajoling, and deal-making. Presidents like Lyndon Johnson have been masters of that art but, oddly, Donald Trump isn’t.   

The other path is the bully pulpit: A President explains his ideas, convinces voters he’s right and, after he does, it’s a rare Senator or Congressman who’ll vote against a popular bill.

President Trump’s use of Social Media is unmatched but attacking Jeff Sessions on Twitter doesn’t make Trump’s ideas popular – he hasn’t mastered the art of the bully pulpit either.  

It’s a hard fact there’s no avoiding: Trump has to master one path or the other. Otherwise, the cupboard of bills passed will be bare.

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It’s called ‘leverage’ and last weekend President Trump tried it by tweeting: “If a new healthcare bill is not approved quickly BAILOUTS for insurance companies and BAILOUTS for members of Congress will end very soon!”

The President was saying to the insurance lobby, Get onboard – or I’ll end $7 billion a year in subsidies government pays insurance companies. And he was saying to Congress, Start helping – or I’ll end the subsidies you voted yourself to lower your health insurance costs.

Now you might ask, If those subsidies are bad why not just do away with them, period? Why say, ‘I’ll keep on paying you the money – if we can make a deal?’ It’s a fair question. But this is politics where devilment and deal making walk hand-in-hand.  

And as far as Congress goes the deal might work: Congress might want to keep its subsidies. More to the point, if Congress balks ending subsidies for Washington politicians would be wildly popular.

But the Health Insurance Companies are a different problem. Because the government pays them subsidies to reduce the cost of health insurance for low income people.

What happens if the President ends them? Health insurance companies will increase the cost of insurance and probably not just for low income people – for everyone. And the President gets the blame.

It’s an odd sort of deal making: Trump threatens. But, if Trump acts on his threat, Trump gets hurt. But that’s how devilment works: It whispers, Let’s bite your enemy – then it bites you too.  

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Carter and I will be talking about books and politics this Wednesday (August 2) at 7 pm at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. (Support your local independent bookstore!) Join us.

We’re part of the store’s “Bridging the Divide” series, designed to bring together people from the left and the right.

Now, cynics might say Carter and I are exactly the kind of people to blame for the divide. But at least we can talk about politics without getting mad or throwing punches.

And there’s a lot to talk about.

Officially, our topic is the book “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” which helps explain why Democrats have lost lower-income, working class, rural and small-town voters. Or, more to the point, white voters.

But Carter and I like to answer audience questions and respond to comments. So it will be open season on all pressing matters of state.

Like, what do we make of the Trump White House – Spicy, the Mooch, Priebus, Bannon, the Generals and the Family?

What will be the impact of the Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare?

Has everybody forgotten the Trump-Russia investigation?

What will happen in the 2018 elections?

If Democrats can’t win now, can we ever?

We invite you to join us. Help ridge – or widen – the divide. And buy a book or two while you’re there.

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A TAPster of a certain age – and a certain attitude, you can tell – passed along the following tale of two generations. I post it for the benefit of old and young.

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The woman apologized to the young girl and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The older lady said that she was right — our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. The older lady went on to explain:

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

Back then we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.” We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart-ass young person.

We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off… Especially from a tattooed, multiple pierced smartass who can’t make change without the cash register telling them how much.

Posted in: General, Issues
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Now and then in politics, you feel the ground shudder beneath your feet. The world isn’t shaking yet, but the tectonic plates are grinding, the pressure is growing and something big is coming.

So it is these last couple of days.

In the Senate, the Republican promise to repeal Obamacare collapses.

In the White House, Trump World continues to collapse as the Mooch unleashes a profane public tirade at fellow staffers, just as his boss tweets tirades against his own Attorney General.

Even the Boy Scouts flee for higher ground.

In North Carolina, new legislative districts and new elections loom.

Through 40 years in politics, I’ve seen landslides. I’ve ridden them to victory, and I’ve been buried beneath them.

Electoral earthquakes happen when marginal voters on one side are mad, motivated and mobilized, like Democrats today, and when marginal voters on the other side are divided, dispirited and disappointed, like Republicans today.

Then the earth moves.

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Twenty-four years ago newly elected President Bill Clinton had a ‘Disapproval’ rating of 51%, and Democrats lost the next election in a landslide. In 1994 Republican gained 54 seats in Congress.

President Trump has a ‘Disapproval’ rating of 58% – 7 points higher than Clinton’s – but, like most people, Republican politicians shrug, That won’t happen to me.

It’s human nature, like Phillip Franklin saying, There is no danger the Titanic will sink.

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Republicans won four straight elections campaigning against Obamacare – it was that unpopular.

But, now, they’ve laid out their own healthcare plan and guess what: Voters favor Obamacare over the Republican Plan by 2 to 1.

Who’d have thought it was possible?

Can no one in Congress…fix anything?

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Because he’s a Democrat who won in a state that Trump won and Republicans rule, Roy Cooper is getting national attention. Last month it was The New York Times. This week it’s Politico (“Can Roy Cooper Show Democrats How to Win Again?”), which proclaims:

“North Carolina’s governor is unveiling an audacious plan to oust his Republican rivals. Democrats hope to make it a national model.”

Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote:

“Already, Cooper has quietly banked $1 million for his new group, Break the Majority, and plans to raise several million more, along with recruiting candidates and then campaigning for them in state Senate and General Assembly races. The money, being put into a new state Democratic Party account, will also cover salaries for what will effectively be a new campaign committee, with a dedicated communications director, research director, several junior staffers and cash for everything from field organizers to ads.

“Given the cutthroat nature of politics in North Carolina, Cooper’s power play is especially audacious: Though there have been previous independent expenditures and coordinated campaigns in the state and beyond, an effort with this kind of focus and funding is unprecedented.”

Less noticed, no doubt, is this analysis of the Cooper-Pat McCrory race (“Caught Between Coalitions: An Eisenhower Republican in the Tar Heel State”) by Miles Coleman at Decision Desk HQ, who writes:

“During the previous three Gubernatorial campaigns, one constant has been former Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory’s stylistic transformation was just as interesting as the shifting internal politics of his state. Running initially as an ‘Eisenhower Republican’ with an independent streak, by the end of his tenure, he was seen as a partisan who became an unlikely champion of social conservatives.

“Out of office after a single term, McCrory was essentially caught between two coalitions. In his 2008 campaign, he came out on the losing side to a Democrat who was, from an electoral perspective, the last of her kind; she was able to rally eastern North Carolinians back to the party of Jackson in a way that hasn’t since been replicated. Running as an incumbent in 2016, McCrory was undone by a challenger who won, in large part, due to his strength with the state’s more ascendant suburban bloc.”

A tip of the TAP hat to pollster Harrison Hickman for passing this story along. He noted, “Nothing new but a lot of good maps,” including one that led Coleman to say this about North Carolina Democrats:

“At a more general level, the party needs to find ways to connect with rural voters. This last map is a good example of that. This is Cooper’s 2016 map compared to Obama’s in 2008; both were narrow Democratic wins – given the nationalization of local races, this may be the most relevant comparison.

“Though both won by similarly narrow margins, Cooper performed better than Obama in just 19 counties; most of which are urban and have a high concentration of voters with college degrees. If Democrats don’t tailor their message to go beyond these types of constituencies, they leave themselves little room for error in statewide races, and they will be hard pressed to make substantial gains in the legislature.”

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Because this is journalism today. And The News & Observer’s owners are desperately searching for a way to survive.

So the rumor is that a lot of big names are leaving the N&O. And a lot of big changes are coming.

The biggest change: Reporters will be evaluated by their clicks. By how many online clicks their stories get.

Not news. Not scoops. Not great reporting or writing. Not solid, sustained coverage of dull things like government.

Clicks! Which probably involves sex or scandal or something equally sensational.

This is why those old-style readers who sat down to breakfast with their old-style print N&O Tuesday found this story on Page One: “This is why your Facebook feed is full of clues about finding painted rocks.”


But don’t blame the folks at the N&O. Or even their bottom line-obsessed owners.

They’re giving us what we (apparently) want.

Now, that’s frightening.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Only a rare politician can resist it and no politician can cure it;—I first laid eyes on it twenty-six years ago when Jack Hawke asked me to drive over to Republican Headquarters for a meeting with a dozen legislators; an hour later standing around a conference room table covered with maps a legislator – enthusiastically waving his arms – explained he’d found a way to draw not two but three Black Congressional Districts.

Heads nodded. Smiles spread across faces. Not because they wanted to elect three Black Congressmen but because packing Black voters into three districts meant electing Republicans in 6 or 8 other districts.

I pointed to the maps.

“You’re drawing Congressional Districts based on racial quotas. I thought we Republicans were against quotas?”

The answer to my question was no. Emphatically. We Republicans were not against racial quotas when it came to drawing Congressional Districts – so I said: “Alright. But aren’t you doing just what you’ve condemned Democrats for doing for years?”

A flicker of unease shot around the table that quickly passed.

That Republican redistricting plan – 26 years ago – never saw the light of day: The Democrats killed it, passed their own equally one sided (in the opposite direction) plan, and twenty years crawled by before Republicans – in 2011 – finally got to draw the Districts they’d been dreaming of: And it worked. Next election the Republican Congressmen were elected and Republicans elected Super Majorities in the State House and Senate.

And the key to the whole plan was drawing Black Districts.

Which, back then, judges and politicians (in both parties) agree was a good thing to do. President Obama’s Justice Department even gave the Republicans’ redistricting plan its seal of approval.

But human nature walks a crooked road and, five years later, the same Federal Courts who’d ruled Black Districts were good rule the Republican Black Districts were bad (because they were too Black) – which meant the Republican mapmakers had to go back to the drawing board.

As it turned out, redrawing Black Districts wasn’t a difficult problem to solve at all: Republican mapmakers came up with a new theory called ‘Partisan Redistricting;’ this time they packed Democrats (instead of Blacks) into a few districts and that worked too: The outcome was the same. There wasn’t a dimes worth of difference between Racial Redistricting and Partisan Redistricting.

So now, up in Washington, the Supreme Court is about to hear a case about ‘Partisan Redistricting.’ That case is from Wisconsin but here’s an example of how ‘Partisan Redistricting’ works in North Carolina: In 2012 Republican candidates for Congress got 49% of the votes but 70% of the Congressmen elected were Republicans. So the Supreme Court Justices are going to try to figure out whether that’s legal or not and, if it’s not, where to draw a plum-line to stop it.

Is there a cure?

That’s like asking if there’s a cure for original sin. There is. But finding the strength to resist temptation will take more than judges or laws.

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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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