There is an odd recurring theme in the change administration of President Trump that supporters who want to shake up the Swamp surely find disturbing. The president has a penchant for backing Republicans who adamantly oppose his core political agenda. Trump formally endorsed Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) in his 2018 race despite Romney’s undisguised hostility toward him. And now he’s at it again, choosing to boost the chances of an incumbent GOP senator who is thoroughly despised by a significant percentage of the MAGA base.
Anti-Trump Republican Extraordinaire
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is widely considered to be the epitome of an establishment RINO. He has longstanding close personal ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which was part of a corporate alliance that spent $2.5 million on political ads to help him win his seat in 2014 over incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. From the moment Trump was elected to the White House in 2016, Tillis proudly touted his opposition to the new president’s America First agenda. Tillis has pointedly and very publicly dismissed Trump as the leader of the Republican Party:
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 6, 2017
His own official U.S. Senate webpage features a mainstream media article that portrays Tillis as a Republican counterweight to Trump’s immigration policies. “As Donald Trump was pressing his hard-line immigration platform en route to the GOP nomination last year, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis decided to go in a different direction entirely… The freshman senator from North Carolina is now making his biggest immigration play yet, unveiling a plan to provide permanent relief to the undocumented immigrants who came here as minors,” the highlighted text from a 2017 Politico article reads.
True to his U.S. Chamber of Commerce backing, Tillis attempted to pressure the administration into approving an increase in guest-worker visas for foreigners by placing a hold on Trump’s nomination of Lee Francis Cissna to be director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2017. He was also lead sponsor in 2018 of a Senate bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from “interference” by Trump during the Russia probe – a witch hunt designed to distract and obstruct the administration from implementing its change agenda.
“Courage is when you know you’re going to do something that’s going to anger your base,” Tillis told Politico at the time in an interview. But of late, that has changed. Thom Tillis is up for re-election.
Tillis has been facing heavy criticism from Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans for his sudden backing of the president he has so consistently opposed for over two years. In March, he flagrantly flip-flopped on Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over the crisis on our southern border. Tillis had written an op-ed in The Washington Post only a couple of weeks earlier, in which he stoutly laid out his opposition to Trump’s move. The Never Trump website The Bulwark, founded by infamous Trump-hater Bill Kristol after his Weekly Standard magazine went belly up, decried Tillis’s “cave in.” He scolded the senator by noting that “rumors bubbled up that Tillis might face a primary challenger if he continued to defy the president. Presto: He voted with the emperor king after all.”
Tillis in recent days has also tweeted his support for Donald Trump Jr., who faces a Senate committee subpoena over the never-ending Russia probe, and praised Trump’s tough tariff stance against China, which surely will not please his Chamber of Commerce chums. North Carolina newspaper The Charlotte Observer can’t help but notice that these moves come as Tillis was indeed officially presented with his first GOP primary challenger.
Strange way to MAGA
But Garland Tucker is not seen as a Trump-friendly politician himself, and irked Trump stalwarts in North Carolina won’t likely flock to his campaign. Yet the president’s base will struggle mightily to understand why Trump feels the need to help Tillis win re-election in the wake of his persistent opposition to the administration’s agenda, tempered now only in an obvious nod to an upcoming election.
Vice president Mike Pence is being dispatched to the Tar Heel State to headline a fundraiser on behalf of Tillis on May 22, The Observer reports. Republican National Committee chairwoman and Trump ally Ronna McDaniel will also attend. This development is being taken as a signal of overt Trump administration desire to get Tillis re-elected. Perhaps Trump feels the need to keep Senate seats Republican outweighs the fact he is helping to place senators who oppose his policies into those seats. The reaction to Trump’s tweet endorsing Romney in 2018 shows just how confusing the move was to his MAGA base. North Carolinians aboard the Trump Train will be every bit as perplexed by the decision to help Tillis.
The president is showing that he believes he can work with Republican establishment figures more easily than he can with Democrats, and that he does not want to chance supporting a pro-Trump primary challenge to GOP incumbents, no matter how hostile they may have shown themselves to be in the past. This despite the fact that many of his followers blame the Republican establishment more than they do the Dems for the failure to implement key Trump policies, such as building the Wall on the southern border. Republicans held the Senate and House for two years after Trump was elected and are perceived to have done nothing to help implement the campaign promises that led to that seminal victory. Actor James Woods spoke for many of them with this 2018 tweet:
The Republicans have done more to damage what this President is trying to accomplish than the #Democrats have quite frankly. #Republicans currently control all three branches of government and can’t pass a simple bill requiring FREE government identification to vote? #VoterID
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) August 24, 2018
Trump’s public support for Tillis likely will not immediately harm him with his base, as supporters will see it as playing the political game. Yet isn’t that exactly why these folks elected Trump in the first place – so that he wouldn’t be just another conventional politician? The president may risk sowing genuine seeds of alienation among his devoted followers down the line by endorsing the establishment politicians they so heatedly abhor. It will be interesting to see if rumblings of discontent arise the more Trump embraces Tillis as 2020 nears.
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