For conservatives, he may be the RINO that those not residing in his state don’t know much about. While Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) has been largely overshadowed on the US Senate red aisle by more familiar right-vexing figures such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and former 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney (R-UT), his track record of defying the wishes of the Republican voters who twice put him into his upper-chamber seat is second to none.
But Tillis finally received a notable dose of blowback when delegates at the North Carolina Republican state convention voted to censure him. Unlike other measures of this sort, Tillis was not reprimanded over one particular issue, such as voting to impeach President Donald Trump. The official resolution against Tillis was far more general, a sweeping denunciation of “blatant violations of our party platform.” The only perplexing part of the state party’s action is what took it so long.
Squish From the Beginning
“Tillis, a Republican who has served in [the Senate] since 2015, has attempted in recent years to work on bipartisan deals in Congress on hot-button issues – particularly guns, immigration and gay marriage – which have left some conservatives feeling dissatisfied with his record,” WRAL-TV in Raleigh reported on the censure vote. This is not quite accurate. Tillis has not tilted to the left in “recent years,” as the station put it. He’s been there from the start of his Senate tenure, only being briefly interrupted by the need to position himself to the right while securing re-election in 2020.
“State Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union, supports the censure,” the report continued. “He told WRAL that the dissatisfaction started building several years ago, when Tillis initially opposed then-President Donald Trump’s plan to shift millions of dollars from military construction projects toward building a wall along the Mexican border. Tillis eventually changed his position and supported Trump’s plan, but conservatives never forgot his initial stance.”
Tillis has been utterly shameless about cloaking his lack of serious desire to secure the porous southern border and stout support for amnesty for illegal aliens in the draping of pursuing “commonsense initiatives” (actual phrase used on his Senate website) to “break decades of gridlock and inaction from Republicans and Democrats.”
“Thom has been a national leader in finding a solution to provide long-term certainty for undocumented children who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own,” his office crows. The use of the term “undocumented” rather than “illegal alien” speaks volumes as to his true beliefs.
Federation for American Immigration Reform Media Director Ira Mehlman noted Tillis’ propensity to disguise his actions in vintage 2005 John McCain manner.
“Tillis is cosponsor of a bill, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), that would provide ‘a pathway to citizenship’ for a large group of illegal aliens – a description that sounds an awful lot like amnesty,” Mehlman observed in December. “Tillis then goes on to offer a gross and inaccurate generalization, describing this cohort of illegal aliens as ‘doctors, scientists, teachers, [and members of] the military,’ as though holding a degree absolves people from accountability for breaking the law.”
Tillis sparked more anger among North Carolina conservatives in May 2022 by closely working with Democrats in utilizing the school-shooting tragedy in Uvalde, TX, to craft gun control legislation.
“Two days after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde … Tillis and [Sen. Chris] Murphy [D-CT] found themselves huddled in Kyrsten Sinema’s pink-walled Capitol hideaway with the Arizona Democrat and Texas Republican John Cornyn (R-TX). There they began to hammer out the agreement that would produce the first major gun legislation in nearly three decades,” North Carolina online magazine The Assembly related.
Tillis: Profile of an Acceptable Republican
Tillis also has loudly backed the loaded Democrat framing of the events of Jan. 6, 2021, as an attack on democracy. When former Fox News host Tucker Carlson in March aired previously unseen footage of the US Capitol, which called that partisan narrative into question, Tillis was furious.
“I think it’s bulls–t,” Tillis told reporters of Carlson’s “inexcusable” program. “I was here. I was down there, and I saw maybe a few tourists, a few people who got caught up in things,” he stated. “But when you see police barricades breached, when you see police officers assaulted, all of that … if you were just a tourist you should’ve probably lined up at the visitors’ center and came in on an orderly basis.”
Tillis further alienated Tar Heel State Republicans in 2022 by joining Romney and ten other GOP senators in voting for the Democrat-advanced Respect for Marriage Act, which cemented same-sex marriage into federal law. That should have come as no surprise. Tillis supporters have long touted the senator as a “pro-LGBTQ Republican.”
In 2017, he strongly condemned President Trump’s move to ban transgender individuals from serving in the US armed forces. “I would have significant objections to any proposal that calls for a specific group of American patriots currently serving in uniform to be removed from the military,” he declared in a statement.
It’s plain to see that Tillis walks a well-trod path of elected GOP officeholders supporting Democrat policies in the name of “bipartisanship,” “common sense,” and “reasonableness.” And, as with those who have gone before him, he is the recipient of the usual garlands of praise bestowed upon these “fair-minded” Republicans by impressed establishment admirers.
“[He’s] a dying breed, very much John McCain-esque,” Sarah Treul Roberts, a political scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill, told The Assembly.
“There aren’t that many Thom Tillises left,” notorious DC neocon Never Trumper Bill Kristol gushed to the magazine. “Thom Tillis used to be a very typical Republican senator… Now he’s one of the relatively few to step up and be willing to do something in a bipartisan way.”
Don’t expect to see anything different until late 2025 or early 2026, when another of those pesky elections approaches.
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