The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The NCAA’s decision to pull out of North Carolina just took the ‘bathroom bill’ fight nuclear

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) defended the state's controversial bathroom law on May 9, asking Congress to weigh in. (Video: Reuters)
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Update: Even Hillary Clinton is getting in on the debate:

From the moment they passed the law restricting which public bathrooms transgender people can use, North Carolina Republicans have struggled over how to defend it.

When the restroom debate became an issue in March, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said he would prefer Republicans in the state legislature take up the bill in a regular session. But they ignored his wishes, and less than 12 hours later, he signed a bill that is among the most controversial pieces of legislation this year.

Then, PayPal backed out of a plan to build a global operations center in the state just weeks after McCrory celebrated a deal with the e-commerce giant. McCrory downplayed the significance of PayPal's departure. But he was at a loss for words after the NBA All-Star game — a huge moneymaker for the state — pulled out of Charlotte. McCrory called it "total P.C. BS."

N.C. GOP: ‘I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor’

In an attempt at damage control as more businesses, conventions and sports events took their business out of North Carolina, McCrory signed an executive order reaffirming that businesses can still make their own decisions about their bathrooms and locker rooms. He passed it off as a change to the actual law, but The Washington Post's Fact Checker called that claim "misleading" and gave him three out of four Pinocchios for it.

But all of that pales in comparison to North Carolina Republicans' response to the latest fallout from the law. On Monday night, the NCAA announced it will relocate all seven of its championships from North Carolina for this academic year — including the biggest draw of all, the March Madness basketball tournament.

This time, it was the North Carolina GOP that missed the mark. In a statement, the party accused the NCAA of equating its opposition to the bathroom law to its opposition to allowing men and women to play together on the same team — a non sequitur if there ever was one. The party also compared itself to victims of Baylor football's sexual assault scandal — a tone deaf non sequitur if there ever was one.

Here's the full statement from North Carolina Republican Party spokesperson Kami Mueller:

This is so absurd it's almost comical. I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men’s and women’s teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams. Under the NCAA's logic, colleges should make cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms. This decision is an assault to female athletes across the nation. If you are unwilling to have women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, how do you have a women's team? I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor. Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking — and instead focus their energies on making sure our nation’s collegiate athletes are safe, both on and off the field.

North Carolina Republicans have had more than five months to try to come up with a meaningful defense of the law. But each time they've had to defend it, they've reacted with increasing incredulity, seemingly unable to understand their opponents' and the business and sports communities' problems with the law.

This seems like as good a time as any to remind everyone what the law actually does. It requires people who want to use a public bathroom or locker room (schools, universities, government buildings) to use the bathroom of their birth identity. Say a student at the University of North Carolina was born a man but identifies as a transgender woman. That student would have to use the men's locker room. It also prevents municipalities from passing their own anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, and it makes it difficult for LGBT people to sue for discrimination.

There are lawsuits galore about this, of course, not the least of which is the Obama administration's suit against North Carolina to try not to enforce it.

The main arguments for and against the law boil down to:

Supporters of the law say it will protect women from predators who exploit the fact that transgender women can use bathrooms and locker rooms designated for a gender different from their birth gender. Plus, businesses can make their own decisions about bathroom and locker room policy. McCrory even ran a TV ad defending the law:

"Are we really talking about this?" McCrory says to the camera, seemingly genuinely perplexed the law is such a big deal. "Does our desire to be politically correct outweigh our children's privacy and safety?"

Opponents of the law say it will actually end up hurting some of the nation's most vulnerable people — transgender people — by forcing them to out themselves and suddenly use a different bathroom at work or school.

The legal fight over North Carolina's transgender bathroom law, in 4 questions

McCrory's Democratic opponent in the state's heated governor's race, Attorney General Roy Cooper, has criticized the law for an entirely different reason: It's costing North Carolina jobs and its reputation. So far that line of attack seems to be working: McCrory's approval ratings have dipped since he signed the law. A few weeks before he signed the bill, polls show McCrory and Cooper neck and neck. In a late August Monmouth University poll, Donald Trump was outperforming McCrory in the state, and Cooper was up by 9 points.

In an interview with The Post's David Weigel on Monday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said he also didn't understand the hoopla over the law. "I don’t think it has anything to do with college sports," he said. "The NCAA ought to stay with sports and worry about the graduation rates of their athletes more than they worry about the political issues of the day."

But for the NCAA, NBA, Bruce Springsteen, PayPal and countless other conventions, industries and artists that took their business elsewhere, the law is personal and political and worth making a statement about.

North Carolina Republicans don't seem to recognize that, and they're worse off for it.