After weeks of speculation over who would or wouldn’t vote against the president’s non-emergency emergency declaration, both of our Republican Senators sided with the president.
While that ought not be a cause for shock, at least for Senator Burr, Senator Tillis’s vote was surprising. For one, he faces a difficult reelection in 2020 and holds the distinction of the narrowest victory in a North Carolina senate race in a very long time. His vote was much more consequential — professionally — than the retiring Senator Burr, and drew the eyes of the nation.
But more interesting than the attention put upon Tillis was that which he created himself. Less than a month ago, on February 25, he submitted an opinion piece to the Washington Post entitled, “I support Trump’s vision on border security. But I would vote against the emergency.”
Apart from the waxing about how seriously he takes his “responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch,” not one month later Tillis flip-flopped and supported the same measure he denounced in spades: “As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies,” and, “These are the reasons I would vote in favor of the resolution disapproving of the president’s national-emergency declaration, if and when it comes to the Senate.”
But it came, and it went, and Tillis voted against the resolution.
Far be it from me to connect dots that present themselves so clearly, but The Hill reported the morning of the vote that conservatives back home wouldn’t rule out backing a primary challenge against the incumbent Republican. Suddenly, somehow, the conservative position became to oppose the plain text of the Constitution and foist more power into the hands of the Executive Branch.
The whole spectacle reminded me, in a perverse way, of the founding principles in National Review, William F. Buckley’s magazine of conservatism launched mid-century. Part of his qualm with the status quo was conformity, which he addressed in his famous Standing Athwart History essay: “There never was an age of conformity quite like this one, or a camaraderie quite like the liberals’.” Transpose “liberals” with “conservatives,” and you can surmise what Buckley would think of today’s Republican party.
He went on to critique the Republicans of his day and emphasize the need for a philosophical framework and a coherent ideology: “Our political economy and our high-energy industry run on large, general principles and ideas — not by day-to-day guesswork, expedients, and improvisations.” That is a diatribe against the exact manner the incumbent president runs this nation, and an indictment against the “conservative” Republicans allowing it to continue.
In politics and life, all we have is our word. The value of a person is the worth of his or her word; for Senator Tillis, his was trading at an inflated value, but that bubble has burst.
Two instances: Senator Tillis, when swearing his oath of office, agreed to, “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and, “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” His commitment to the former is subjective, but the latter?
Our word exists both in affirmations given vocally and on paper. “Ideas have to go into exchange to become or remain operative,” Buckley wrote. “And the medium of such exchange is the printed word.” Putting into print our ideas is a firmer pledge to uphold them than a comment given in passing to a reporter.
Tillis’ abrogation of what he wrote in the Washington Post is a testament to the Icarian path of the Republican Party. If Ronald Reagan was its zenith, than Donal Trump is the nadir. At least the cult of personality around Reagan was undergirded with core principles that were applied with relative consistency. Now, it seems any vote is a matter of noting the direction of the wind, or reading about the prospect of a primary in the paper.
What does this augur for the party once Trump is out of office? Their platform now is tied more to polling than principle.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.