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Fact check: Deceptive attack ad against GOP Senate candidate Pat McCrory edits his quotes about Trump and rioters

<i>Bryan Anderson/AP</i><br/>In this Saturday
Bryan Anderson/AP
In this Saturday

By Daniel Dale

A television attack ad from conservative Super PAC Club for Growth Action uses egregiously deceptive editing to build its case that Pat McCrory, a Republican candidate for a US Senate seat in North Carolina, is a “Trump-hater” and “liberal faker.”

Facts First: The attack ad dishonestly sliced and diced remarks McCrory made on the Charlotte radio show he co-hosted after his term as North Carolina governor ended in 2017 — changing the meaning of some of his quotes to transform them into what sounded like direct attacks on former President Donald Trump and Trump supporters.

As CNN reported in April, McCrory did make some comments on the radio show that were genuinely critical of Trump. But Club for Growth Action was not content to simply play these comments in the ad. Rather, the ad relied heavily on misrepresentations of other McCrory statements.

Contrary to the ad’s suggestion, McCrory’s July 2020 comment urging Trump to “get off the stage” and “let Joe Biden take over the number-one position” was not an endorsement of Biden over Trump. Rather, McCrory actually said Trump could help himself win re-election, as McCrory said he wanted, by “occasionally” receding from the spotlight and letting Americans pay more attention to what McCrory said were Biden’s poor public performances.

Another part of the ad was also highly misleading: McCrory did not endorse the rioting that occurred during some of the racial justice protests in 2020 — he actually condemned that rioting — and did not issue a broad rebuke of Trump supporters. McCrory’s “who in the hell do they think they are?” remark featured in the ad was specifically about Capitol rioters who assaulted police officers.

In addition, the ad highlighted a McCrory quote praising Mitt Romney, who is now a villain to many Trump supporters, while noting only in small type that McCrory uttered this quote during the 2012 election in which Romney was the Republican presidential nominee.

Club for Growth Action, which is the political arm of the conservative organization Club for Growth, is backing one of McCrory’s opponents in the Republican primary for the US Senate seat, Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd. Club for Growth did not respond to a CNN request for comment on the ad’s distortions.

McCrory supported Trump’s re-election in 2020 and has said he is a supporter of Trump’s policy agenda. McCrory advisor Jordan Shaw said in an email to CNN this week that “these ads are bought and paid for by the DC swamp.”

McCrory’s comments about Biden and Trump

The attack ad used a clip of McCrory saying the following words on his radio show on July 24, 2020: “Donald Trump, get off the stage. Let Joe Biden take over the number-one position.”

This snippet made it sound like McCrory said he prefers Biden to Trump as president, the country’s “number-one position.” But as Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel noted on Twitter on Wednesday, that’s not what McCrory said.

McCrory’s comments came during a humorous “McCrory Top 5” list of “the five current politicians that love celebrity and the stage a little too much.”

McCrory gave the number-two spot to Biden, whom he said has “always loved the stage” but was performing badly in the spotlight. McCrory then said the number-one spot was a tie between then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Trump.

“I hate to say it,” McCrory said with a sigh, “but he’s my president and I want him to be re-elected — but he’s gotta get off the stage occasionally and let Joe Biden take over the number-one position if he wants to be president for a second term: Donald Trump.” He then made a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comically bad ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game that week: “Donald Trump, do not go out throw out the first baseball next week, as I heard you say on Hannity. Don’t do it! You have nothing to gain!”

McCrory was no doubt delivering some light ribbing of Trump here. But the attack ad made it appear as if McCrory had seriously declared that he favored Biden over Trump. That’s not true.

McCrory’s comments about violent protests

On his radio show on January 7, 2021, the day after a mob stormed the US Capitol, McCrory condemned both the Capitol rioters and violent participants in Black Lives Matter protests.

But the attack ad deceptively chopped up McCrory’s quotes, and framed them with misleading images, to make him seem like an anti-Republican hypocrite who supported violence at Black Lives Matter demonstrations while broadly condemning Trump supporters. He didn’t do either of those things.

The ad played McCrory’s voice saying this: “People rightfully protested for Black Lives Matter.” The ad then flashed an image of a street fire, suggestive of a riot. The narrator said, “But Trump supporters?” The ad then showed an image of Trump supporters holding signs that said “PEACEFUL PROTESTER.” Then the ad played McCrory’s voice saying, “Riots by Republicans. Who in the hell do they think they are?”

The edits and visuals in this section of the ad were thoroughly deceptive — twisting McCrory’s comments beyond recognition. Here’s what McCrory actually said.

At length, he condemned violence by the “radical left,” by criminals in Charlotte and by violent participants in Black Lives Matter protests. He then said that, up until the “disgusting” violence at the Capitol the day prior, he had been proud to say there had been “no riots by Republicans.”

That “no riots by Republicans” line appears to be the source of the “riots by Republicans” audio snippet in the ad.

Later in the episode, McCrory denounced the Capitol rioters who had illegally entered the House of Representatives. He continued: “And then to see police officers defending themselves and having to spray individuals who were attacking them. It’s inexcusable. Who in the hell do they think they are, carrying an American flag and then assaulting a police officer?”

In both the ad’s narration and its use of the “PEACEFUL PROTESTER” signs, Club for Growth Action depicted McCrory’s “who in the hell do they think they are?” line as a general attack on Trump supporters who had done nothing wrong. It omitted the McCrory words that would have made it clear he was, in reality, delivering a specific condemnation of the pro-Trump rioters who had attacked police officers.

And that’s not all. The ad also misleadingly truncated and illustrated McCrory’s comment about Black Lives Matter.

McCrory said he didn’t think some of the January 6 rioters at the Capitol had originally planned to be violent; he said they “crossed the line with me” even if they were “following the mob.” Then he continued by once more criticizing violence during racial justice protests.

“When you follow the mob, you become part of the mob. I saw this during protests in Charlotte, where people rightfully protested for Black Lives Matter. But then they didn’t stop others, people from breaking the windows. They didn’t defend the police,” he said. “And the exact same thing happened yesterday in Washington DC. People who had a right to protest did not protest the violence and the breaking of laws, of taking over a hallowed institutional building. It’s inexcusable.”

In summary: the ad’s visual of the street fire portrayed McCrory’s “people rightfully protested for Black Lives Matter” snippet as an endorsement of rioting during racial justice protests. The ad did not inform viewers that McCrory explicitly and repeatedly condemned such rioting.

McCrory’s 2012 praise of Mitt Romney

The ad contrasted McCrory’s criticism of Trump with a comment he made about Romney, whom McCrory called “a man of incredible courage.”

But the ad was sneaky about when McCrory uttered this comment about Romney — making viewers locate small text at the bottom right of the screen to learn that the date of the quote was August 12, 2012.

On that day more than nine years ago, Romney was not yet the Utah senator who has angered many Trump supporters with his votes to convict Trump on impeachment charges. Rather, Romney was the Republican nominee for president, running against Barack Obama, and he was campaigning in North Carolina with McCrory, who was then the Republican nominee for governor.

Even in small and uncentered type, the disclosure of the date of the quote was more honest than much of the rest of the ad. Still, though, the ad could have been much more transparent on this point.

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