The attacks ads against Thom Tillis should be brutal. And they probably should have started by now. I hope the national Democrats are up for this cycle.
Not in my lifetime has North Carolina had a US Senator who had so few convictions and stood for so little. He didn’t rise through the political establishment, building relationships and networks. Instead, he burst onto the political scene, running against an incumbent Republican for a state house seat in 2006. Four years later, he was Speaker of the House. Four years after that, he was a US Senator.
The only two Senators from North Carolina in my lifetime who rose so fast were John Edwards and John East. East was an ECU professor and paraplegic who was carried to victory in 1980 on the strength of the Reagan Revolution and Jesse Helm’s Congressional Club. When he got elected, most people didn’t even know he was in a wheelchair. As for Edwards, he was a charismatic trial lawyer with a great personal story, a populist message and the money to get it out. Edwards’ fall came from personal failures more than political ones. He probably believed his Two Americas message even if he let his ego get in his way.
Throughout Tillis’ tenure, the only thing that’s been consistent is his commitment to his political career. He got to be Speaker by being the insurgent leader. He got to the Senate promising to be the moderate healer. He’s now just the sycophant.
Tillis has never been a great politician because he believes that saying what people want to hear is good politics. When he thought he had a primary, he misread the GOP in North Carolina and wrote an op-ed very gently criticizing the president. When he got pushback from the Trumpsters and the administration, he humiliated himself by contradicting his own national article.
Since then, he has doubled down on his loyalty to Trump with a cringeworthy performance of insincerity. He’s followed Mark Meadows and Lindsey Graham in defending the president. He’s now so far out there, his only option is to run as a committed Trumper.
Through the impeachment trial, Tillis has taken all of his cues from the president’s tweets. He’s showing his lockstep allegiance to a man who has violated his oath of office and invited foreign countries to interfere in our elections. He’s been on television denying the case against the president has merit, calling it a sham.
Now, his friend John Bolton is contradicting what he’s been claiming. In his forthcoming book, Bolton says that the president did withhold aid to Ukraine while demanding the president open up an investigation into Joe Biden. The GOP case will now switch from “Nothing happened” to “It’s alright to side with a foreign country over America.” I assume Tillis will go there—at least for a while.
But the hit on Tillis is not that he’s too pro-Trump or that he’s too conservative. The hit on Tillis is that he stands for nothing. It’s so effective because it’s so believable because it’s so true. And everybody, Democrats and Republicans, knows it.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >