Commentary

Why the Right may be willing to throw Richard Burr over the side — Hint: it’s about politics

Nationwide, an outraged public has called for North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr to resign, after revelations that he failed to warn people about the new coronavirus pandemic. Burr, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, had access to crucial information as far back as January about the likely impact, but assured the public the situation was under control. Instead, he sold stocks in companies likely to be lose value as result of the crisis.

Meanwhile this has been striking: the crickets chirping over on Right-Wing Avenue.

Rather than leaping to Burr’s defense as they usually do when, say, President Trump is the object of allegations of impropriety, (which happens weekly), most conservative forces have been muted. (Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson is the exception, calling for Burr to explain himself or resign.)

While it would be nice to believe that this reaction is about morality and a concern for ethics in government, that seems extremely unlikely for a movement that has been joined at the hip with the Great Prevaricator for three years.

Here is the more likely explanation: politics.

If Burr is forced to resign less than two years prior to the end of his term — a term that he has already announced will be his last — it’s true that Gov. Roy Cooper would get to name his replacement. There is, however, a big catch: Under a 2018 law approved by Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly, the selection would have to come from a list of three individuals submitted by the executive committee of the state Republican Party. Previously, the governor only had to choose someone affiliated with the same political party as the outgoing senator.

So why is this important?

At least three factors stand out.

First, anyone selected to replace Burr would likely have a significant advantage in the 2022 election over a nominee chosen that spring, given all the advantages of name recognition and fundraising that naturally accrue to an incumbent. “If Burr is retiring anyway,” goes the likely thinking on the Right, “it couldn’t hurt to get someone else in there now and give them a head start on holding the seat going forward.”

Second, for all of his embarrassing greed and ineptitude, Burr is not a far-right Trumpist in the mold, for instance, of most of the state’s GOP delegation to the U.S. House. Burr is much more in the mold of, say, George W. Bush — conservative by instinct and social class, but not a hard-line fire-breather like, say, Mark Meadows, Virginia Foxx or Mark Walker.

Third is the political weakness that Burr would likely lend to the overall GOP ticket this fall — including the reelection prospects of fellow senator Thom Tillis. Even if Burr isn’t on the ballot, the last thing Republicans want is their senior elected official in the state serving as a national poster child for self-serving greed during a period of national crisis.

The bottom line: Burr’s transgressions may be so egregious that he will be unable to survive in this fast-moving period of societal crisis. But if he does stick around, it might not be the best scenario for his party or the worst outcome for the Democrats.

8 Comments


  1. Stewart

    March 21, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    The situation is more nuanced than this article makes it seem. First, while the appointment of a temporary Senator to fill the vacancy is correctly stated, that doesn’t mean they would necessarily serve until Burr’s term expires in 2022. If Burr resigns before September 3rd of this year (more than 60 days) then a special election would have to be held in November along with the general election to fill the seat for the rest of Burr’s term, per the way the current law is written. It’s only if they can manage to hold off Burr’s resignation for the next five months that the state GOP gets to have their hand-selected Senator for the next two years. That is, of course, why Burr has now throw himself on the mercy of the Senate ethics committee. Whether or not they decide to give him a pass (and with what he did being a blatant violation of the STOCK Act, they may not feel they can and preserve their own electoral positions), it still gives him a window to delay any resignation past the deadline to have a special election in November. Look for the Moore/Berger forces to try and stall any action as well, so they can keep this seat in GOP hands at least until 2022 and give their appointee a solid two years of incumbency to back their eventual electoral chances, rather than just a couple of months.

  2. J Borman

    March 21, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you, Stewart. Very well reasoned comment.

  3. Leslie Boyd

    March 22, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Resignation is not enough. He needs to be expelled from the Senate and lose all his benefits, then he needs to be arrested, tried for violation of the 2012 STOCKS Act and sent to jail.

  4. Tim

    March 22, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    What about the other three ?? Feinstein and two other pubs !! All four need to go not just burr

  5. Tony Dunnell

    March 22, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    Resignation is not enough. There should prison time. After everything President Trump is to do to drain the swamp we do not need him in our party any longer. This is an embarrassment to every Repbulican.

  6. Dan

    March 23, 2020 at 5:03 am

    There is more than one crime here. First, there’s the simple monetary crime that a female celebrity did actual jail time for. Next , we have a high ranking elected official sworn to serve the people and defend the constitution, breaking his oath to line his pockets, and then only warning the few who paid him large contributions. Finally, what about the end results? By not warning the people of his own state of the coming pandemic, how many severe illnesses and deaths will result? Is this not criminal negligence, some form of murder by dereliction of duty?
    A multiple crime of this nature by a high elected official deserves massive fines removing all financial assets, removal from office and all benefits, public shaming and significant jail time. Not so many years ago, tar and feathers would be an acceptable addition.
    If such crimes are not severely dealt with, we can expect them to happen again and again.

  7. Betsy D

    March 23, 2020 at 7:38 am

    Part of the story constantly being ignored here is the fact that Burr was secretly recorded telling a Raleigh pay to play club of the seriousness of this disease while at the same time giving positive press on it. Looks like the $10,000 a year membership paid off in a huge heads up for the members!

  8. Ann

    March 27, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    So very thankful his devout Christian parents do not know what he has become. They had been so proud of him when he went to Washington; surely they would be devastated today.

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