So there we sat last Thursday, mouths agape, watching as a major political party imploded in real time. For twenty incredible minutes, the GOP's last presidential nominee bashed the guy likely to be its next one, calling him reckless and greedy, a fraud, a con man, a dangerous bully, a demagogue, a harbinger of a failing democracy.
"He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants," former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said of Donald Trump. "He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss. ... He's playing the members of the American public for suckers."
That's an indictment that won't be easy to walk back come fall.
Romney's not alone, either: The Hill compiled a list of more than two dozen prominent Republicans—activists and talk show hosts, congressmen and former party officials—who've pledged to vote for a third party (they can't stomach Hillary, after all) should The Donald become their nominee. (Whether they stick to their commitment or not remains an open question, but the fact that such a list even exists is remarkable.)
- Illustration by Skillet Gilmore
Not on that list, however, was anyone from North Carolina.
The day before Romney's speech, a spokesman for Governor Pat McCrory told the Winston-Salem Journal that "the governor will support the party's nominee." Then McCrory—once floated as a Trump running mate by none other than Ann Coulter—went on Capital Tonight and reiterated, "Yes, I will support the nominee, but I'm staying out of the presidential race." He did fret about "the maturity level of the debates"—apparently he doesn't like dick jokes—and "the lack of pragmatic solutions," but that wasn't enough to make him reconsider his commitment.
Like McCrory, Senator Richard Burr—who reportedly said (and then denied saying) that he'd vote for Bernie Sanders ahead of Ted Cruz—hasn't endorsed but says he'll back the winner. Senator Thom Tillis, meanwhile, has endorsed Marco Rubio—who, like Romney, labeled Trump a "con man"—but hasn't said anything about #NeverTrump. (A spokesperson did not respond to our inquiries.)
The state Democratic Party, of course, immediately tried to make this a thing, blasting out a statement that read, "Donald Trump would be a disaster as president and North Carolinians should be embarrassed that Governor McCrory would even consider helping him get there."
We're not sure "party hack supports party nominee" quite rises to the level of scandal. But there's an interesting underlying question here: How far, exactly, does Trump have to go before party leaders disavow him? At this point, would anything constitute "beyond the pale"?
Or, for North Carolina Republicans, does party affiliation—wait for it—trump all else?
It's worth noting that Romney and McCrory aren't altogether dissimilar politicians. They're both Chamber conservatives who've occasionally been distrusted by their party's base. And so they've both felt compelled at times to pander to the far right, as Romney did in 2012 when he sought Trump's blessing even after he promulgated the racist birther crap.
But at least Romney, when he saw his party's train careening off the track, had the good sense to say something—and that's more than you can say of McCrory.
Which leaves two possibilities: either McCrory thinks Trump is presidential material, or he's too much of a coward to say otherwise. Neither paints him in an especially good light.