In an otherwise bleak election night for progressives, a silver lining appears to have emerged from North Carolina: Republican Gov. Pat McCrory likely went down to defeat, though he’s still vowing to “fight for every vote.” The fact that North Carolina even became a battleground state at all in the 2016 presidential cycle was fueled by the sheer hubris McCrory and his GOP legislature demonstrated when they rushed to pass the HB2 law targeting transgender and LGBTQ Americans for discrimination.
After reportedly privately arguing against the measure, McCrory ultimately embraced it and even campaigned on it, making the political calculation that it would help his re-election. Indeed, emails obtained after HB2's passage showed one right-wing activist pressuring McCrory's team to overturn Charlotte’s ordinance, which had ensured transgender people access to bathrooms consistent with their gender.
“Taking action now is not only the right thing to do, it will be politically popular,” Frank Turek, a Christian author and anti-gay activist, wrote on March 1.
McCrory's crucial mistake was believing that the political instincts of a Christian conservative were on the mark. Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence made the very same error last year when he signed the state's "license to discriminate" religious freedom bill into law. In fact, just as soon as McCrory put his name on the HB2 bill—which also prevented local minimum wage hikes, restricted worker bias lawsuits, and prohibited passage of local pro-LGBTQ measures—he sealed his fight for his political life.
That's when North Carolina started bleeding both jobs and revenues, as entities like PayPal, the NCAA, the NBA and entertainers like Bruce Springsteen decided to take their business elsewhere.
If there were a close second for biggest loser over the HB2 debacle, it would have to be the North Carolina Republican Party. GOP lawmakers may have held on to veto-proof majorities in the state legislature due to their heavily gerrymandered districts, but they proved to be thoroughly out of their depth as the discriminatory law began to boomerang right back at them under the glare of the national spotlight. In behavior befitting of school children, they trash talked businesses that exited the state, asked for the return of gifts they had given while courting companies (give us our bowl back!), unsuccessfully tried to silence First Amendment speech about the law, and in a final show of bad faith, celebrated voting data suggesting their voter suppression efforts might be working and Obama's voting coalition was "crumbling." If there were a way for NC Republicans to put more of an exclamation point on their lack of sophistication, it’s a real stumper. Good luck to them with their future biz-dev efforts.
The state party aside, exactly how many more Republican "rising stars" are going to kill their political careers by heeding the advice of Christian conservatives like Frank Turek isn't clear. But we can now add McCrory to that list. Mike Pence, who killed his own presidential hopes by signing his state’s anti-LGBTQ bill, got a get out of jail free card along with a new political lifeline by riding Donald Trump’s rage-filled coattails to the White House. That is a bitter pill to swallow for LGBTQ Americans, women, and people of color to be sure.
But if there's a sure bet for people who don't have their finger on the pulse of America when it comes to LGBTQ issues, it's social conservatives, even as they take Tuesday’s results as sign of their appeal. Most people didn't vote for Donald Trump because they thought he was anti-gay—in fact, many reporters painted him as the most pro-LGBTQ Republican nominee in history. I would argue otherwise, simply by virtue of the fact that he chose a running mate who's biggest national moment was forged out his disregard and even hatred for queer Americans as lesser human beings. Still, Trump was not that candidate even if he stands to do more harm to us now as president than he’s even capable of comprehending.
Republicans undoubtedly emerged from Tuesday dominating both state and federal governments nationwide. But culture trend lines continue to be on the side of LGBTQ freedom, and companies across the country know that it doesn’t pay to be bigoted. Their bottom line is making money, not pushing party ideology. Pat McCrory learned that the hard way. Let that be a lesson to the next governor who wrestles with whether to sign job killing, investment stunting legislation into law: That even in the midst of a Republican sweep, the once “moderate” pro-business governor from Charlotte may have lost his re-election bid because he trusted the political instincts of raging homophobes. Short of that, he probably would have skated to reelection.