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Since Donald Trump opened up his big fat trap at the debate 10 days ago, a big fat trap has opened up for Republicans all down the ballot.

Polls now show the full measure of damage that Trump did to himself and to all Republicans, especially with Independents and women.

Even worse, Trump has two more debates to go.

Think back to that Monday morning before the debate. Polls were suddenly showing a tight race. Hillary Clinton had suffered through two bad weeks. The media focus had moved on to her and away from Trump’s attack on a Gold Star family and other intemperate remarks.

Democrats were panicked, Republicans were energized and the media said it was do or die for Hillary.

She did, and Trump died.

 “Celebrity Apprentice” made Trump a star. A 90-minute debate made him a villain. Live by TV, die by TV.

The camera was unforgiving that night. There was no Chris Christie, no Marco Rubio, no Jeb Bush to distract us. It was all Trump.

He couldn’t help being himself. And Independents, especially women, hated him.

Clinton coolly set the trap. She threw him off balance early by saying he got where he is in business because of his father. Then she crowned him with Miss Universe.

Trump took the bait. He ranted and raved; he blustered and got flustered. Even after the debate, he couldn’t stop. He kept fat-shaming Miss Universe. He attacked her in an early morning tweetstorm. He attacked Hillary’s marriage and threatened to bring up Monica.

Please, Hillary wishes. Bring it.

(By the way, you’d think that someone as weight-obsessed as Trump would lose some himself. He has a rear end the size of a $16 pizza.)

The Clinton campaign coupled the debate trap with a devastating TV ad: Trump criticizes women’s looks while adolescent girls look at themselves in the mirror.

Trump’s best debate strategy Sunday night might be to call in sick and send Mike Pence in his place. Pence is as truth-challenged as Trump, but at least he’s not nuts.

Maybe Trump will do better in a town-hall setting. Maybe he’ll show a sensitivity to the common people that he has kept hidden throughout his business career.

Or maybe we’ll just see more of the real Donald Trump.

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Somehow the New York Times laid its hands on Donald Trump’s tax returns from 1995,  which showed Trump had claimed $916 million in losses – losses so large, according to the Times, Donald Trump may not have paid a penny of federal income taxes for 18 years.

It would be hard to find a newspaper that dislikes Donald Trump more than the Times – but Trump’s folks don’t deny he lost $916 million. And everyone seems to agree, if that happened, it would have been perfectly legal for Trump to claim the loss and not pay taxes. In fact, Rudy Giuliani said it would prove Trump’s a ‘genius’ if he didn’t pay income taxes for 18 years.

But still, a billionaire not paying a penny of income taxes is going to be hard for most folks to swallow.

Of course, there’s a subplot here: What the Times is doing is turning up the heat on Trump to release his tax returns – and, in one way, the Times has Trump over a barrel. But, in another way, it may have handed him a gift.

The Times has now said to voters: We suspect Donald Trump didn’t pay income taxes. And, naturally, if Trump refuses to release his returns many people will conclude, The Times must be right –  which is a big blow to Trump.

On the other hand, if Trump releases his tax returns and they prove he did pay taxes – that’s a big win for Trump. It will prove he’s the victim of a smear. And the Times ends up with a black eye.

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Regardless of what Hurricane Matthew does, Pat McCrory is struggling against high headwinds and a vicious riptide.

That forecast track is clear in WRAL’s SurveyUSA poll (which has nothing to do with Greg Fishel).

It’s not just that Roy Cooper leads McCrory 48-44. It’s that all the winds are blowing Cooper’s way.

Half (51 percent) of likely voters in the poll “say a candidate’s position on HB2 will strongly influence how they vote this November.” And half (52 percent) of likely voters “say they disapprove of House Bill 2.”

That’s a bad headwind.

Then there’s the rip current. As WRAL’s Mark Binker wrote,

“When asked if the state’s economy is stronger than it was four years ago when McCrory took office, only 25 percent said that it was, while 40 percent said the state’s economy is weaker. On a separate question, more than two-thirds of voters said their own economic well-being is either the same or worse than it was four years ago.”

Again (see yesterday’s blog), McCrory’s Carolina Comeback is drowning in that surf.


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Gripping the lectern Trump whacked Hillary for Bill’s running around then, after his speech, the press asked Trump about his running around (with Marla Maples) when he was married to Ivana. Trump shot back, ‘I don’t talk about that.’

Today the meltdown got worse.  

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What’s up with Pat McCrory’s ad strategy?

Under the Dome reported that he has a new ad “boasting of North Carolina’s economic gains.” In it, McCrory says:

“When I entered office North Carolina had record unemployment, high taxes and huge budget shortfalls; it had been that way for years. Now, we have one of the fastest-growing economies in this country. We cut taxes. Added 300,000 new jobs. We have the lowest unemployment in nine years and we’re announcing thousands of new jobs every month. That’s results, not politics.”

The same Under the Dome reported on a Bloomberg poll that showed Roy Cooper leading McCrory by 50-44. Dome added:

“Some of that may be explained by another finding: 58 percent said the state’s on the ‘wrong track’ while 34 percent said it was moving in the right direction.”

So McCrory takes credit for how well things are going. But voters say, by a 24-point margin, that things aren’t going well.

Cooper may be happy that ad is on the air.

Note: I’m glad to post this after my blog yesterday lamenting the N&O’s shrinking political coverage. The paper is still good blog fodder. And a good breakfast companion. (So long as it’s not a big breakfast.)


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Whether he woke up or whether he was lying in bed eyes wide open at 5:19 in the morning Donald Trump reached for his phone, tweeted out the ‘disgusting (check out sex tape) Alicia Machado,’ pressed send, and all hell broke loose.

All because Hillary Clinton had said that he’d said Machado, a beauty pageant winner, was overweight.

What dark chord did Hillary touch in Donald Trump to cause him to meltdown just before dawn? Was it vanity? Narcissism? An old fear?

Five hours later Hillary answered Trump, tweeting, Unhinged…and Trump tweeted he’d just proved he’d be awake in the White House when the 3:00am call came.

Last Friday morning at 5:19 Donald Trump had his Howard Dean moment. He melted down. There’s no turning back the clock. No bouncing back.

Of course, that’s a theory. Not a fact. But watch tonight. Tomorrow. And Wednesday. Let’s see if Trump rises. Or spirals downward.

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The N&O is again shrinking its print edition, just as it is again shedding news and editorial staff. Of more concern: the N&O’s role as the go-to source of political news in North Carolina is shrinking.

As I recall from this morning’s paper, there will be only two sections a couple of days a week. And the op-ed page won’t always be there. (Sorry I’m hazy on the details; I couldn’t find the story on the N&O website, which won’t surprise anyone who ever tried to navigate it.)

But the changes in the pages aren’t the biggest concern.

Case in point: Carter and I, because we are veritable fonts of wisdom (or at least, usable quotes), get two-three calls a week from political reporters this time of year.

But nearly all are from national reporters: AP, New York Times, Univision, NPR, Reuters, Roll Call, The Hill, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, McClatchy DC Bureau.

If North Carolina wasn’t a battleground state, would we get any political coverage?

In-state calls are usually from WRAL, Greensboro News & Record, Fayetteville Observer, Charlotte Observer. (Some mornings the N&O looks like The Charlotte Observer East.) And from The Daily Tar Heel, from smart, energetic journalism students. (Where will they end up?)

Only rarely from the N&O.

Now, this isn’t a criticism of the news staff. They’re understaffed and overworked. Rob Christensen, the state’s senior political reporter, is off writing a book.

The N&O, like many papers, is struggling to cover more with less. Its editors no doubt are making tough choices every day.

We don’t know the N&O’s financial condition. One old hand did post a long, disturbing story, “How Massive Cuts Have Remade The Denver Post,” and said it was “not unlike what’s happening” at the N&O.

It pains me to say all this. I love the N&O. It has been part of my life since my father went to work there as a printer when I was a tot. I worked there through high school, college and my early 20s.

All my years in politics, the N&O was the center of action. It was where you looked every morning to know what was going on – and who to call.

Today, not so much.


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We want our President to be ready for the 3 am phone call. Donald Trump is already up at 3 am, firing off vicious, venomous tweets. Attacking a beauty pageant winner, of all things. 

Which raises the prospect that in one of the debates he could become the first presidential candidate to have a total mental and emotional breakdown on national TV. Maybe like the guy in “Network.” He could start throwing things. Or storm off the stage. Or punch somebody.

It’s must-watch TV.

Hand it to Team Clinton. Their assiduous research and obsessive debate prep enabled Hillary to get under Trump’s thin skin like no Republican did. She threw him off message early by suggesting he got where he is because he inherited his father’s fortune. 

Trump couldn’t let that go because his ego, though it towers over his phallic Trump Towers, seems as fragile as a Caribbean village in a Category 5 hurricane. 

Given Trump’s debate behavior and his wee-hours tweet storm, you can’t blame people for wondering if he has a drug habit. It’s like your parents said: not much good happens at 3 am.

(All in all, it was a bad week for the legalize-drugs lobby. Gary Johnson continued to give all pot users a bad name.)

Trump cannot let any criticism pass without viciously counterpunching. To him, this election is all about him. He could care less about the American people. They exist to admire and applaud him. If they don’t, he attacks them.

What will he do in a town hall debate when Jane Doe asks him a tough question? Call her a “fat, stupid pig”?

The epic irony is that Trump said Monday night his best quality is his “temperament.” He then proceeded to show how temperamentally unfit he is. 

Which put the media spotlight back on himself, just like when he attacked the Kahn family after the Democratic convention. 

He immediately fell in the polls, thereby reinforcing my Universal Theory of the 2016 Race: if you lead the news, you lose.  

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Quick. Somebody get Hillary Clinton a verb. A whole bunch of them. 

She needs them to reach swing voters – millennials and Trump-averse Independents and Republicans. They don’t know what she wants to DO as President, so they suspect she just wants to BE President.   

Verbs connote action, movement and progress. No verbs = status quo. Too many swing voters see Clinton as the status quo candidate and Trump as the change (albeit risky) candidate.

Her slogan, “Stronger Together,” is an adjective and an adverb. Her old slogan, “I’m With Her,” uses the weakest of all verbs. And even swallows that.

For all his raving incoherence Monday night, Trump’s campaign has verbs. Lots of verbs. Strong verbs. Make America Great Again.  Build a Wall. Destroy ISIS. Bring Our Jobs Back. Deport Illegals. Ban Muslims. Stop and Frisk. Lock Her Up. 

He hasn’t a clue how to do any of them, but he puts the hay down where the goats can eat it.

Clinton has a disease that often afflicts Democrats. They can drown you in 40-page policy papers. But they can’t give you a four-word sentence. 

Governor Hunt was good at it. “Raise teacher pay to the national average.” “Give every child a smart start.” (Yes, long sentences work, if they have strong verbs and specific goals.)

Roy Cooper’s website has a good one: Build a Better North Carolina. Even better: Repeal HB2. One sign says: Flush McCrory.

McCrory’s is weak: Carolina Comeback. Or now, maybe, it’s Don’t Blame Me. 

Maybe Hillary should try Build A Better America. Or, Make America Great – for Every American. Or, Protect Women’s Health Care. Fight Bigotry and Stop Discrimination. Reduce Student Debt. Save Social Security and Medicare. Make America Safe and Strong. Attack Global Warming.

(Not, Tax the Rich. But maybe, Tax Trump.)

Or, Keep That Madman Out of the Oval Office. Put a Safe Hand on the Nuclear Button.

A few good verbs will serve Clinton well in the next debate. Then she’ll be ready when Trump brings up Bill and Monica:

“You’re one to talk, Donald. I’m still with the spouse I married 40 years ago. So you can attack my family and me all you want. I want to attack the real problems Americans and American families face.”

Give him hell. And give voters some good verbs. 

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It’s hard to find a more bull-headed fellow walking the earth than a UNC professor dead-set on upholding the virtues of political correctness: He’s 100% for diversity and 100% against discrimination right up to the moment someone disagrees with him.

The other day the UNC Faculty Council gave the legislature and Senator Phil Berger down the road for interfering with academic freedom.  Now politicians are capable of almost anything but for once they’re innocent. The way the Faculty Council views it the legislature’s job is to give the University money and what the politicians ought not to do, ever, is tell the professors what to spend the money on. That interferes with their academic freedom.

Senate Leader Phil Berger also enraged the professors by saying there was “philosophical and partisan homogeneity at UNC,” which was about as polite a way Berger could have found to say that professors are often as receptive to other people’s ideas as a rock.

Meantime, at the same time the Faculty Council was taking Senator Berger to the woodshed, the News & Observer was reporting how UNC professors taught bogus classes for athletes for twenty years.

Chapel Hill’s not as small as Mayberry but how likely is it one group of professors were teaching classes that never met and none of the other professors ever had a clue what was going on – for twenty years?

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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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