Yesterday, Governor Roy Cooper laid out a measured plan for opening up the state. He extended the stay-at-home order until May 8 and set out benchmarks for easing restrictions in phases over the next couple of months. He largely followed the protocols set forth by the White House’s Coronavirus task force. 

In contrast, Donald Trump suggested we experiment with injecting disinfectants to kill the virus. He also suggested we use light somehow illuminating inside the bodies of infected people to combat the disease. He came up with these ideas after studies showed his last preferred treatment, hydroxychloraquine, was found to have no impact and could be harmful.

The man caught in the middle between the two approaches is Senator Thom Tillis. Tillis has spent the last two and half years praising anything the president said. Yesterday, he gave unqualified praise to Cooper’s plan, saying it’s in line with the task force’s approach. Tillis is trying to make a move back to the center and sanity. 

After starting his Senate career trying to stake out a role as a moderate who worked both sides of the aisle, Tillis became a Trump sycophant on the order of Lindsey Graham. The shift came abruptly when Tillis famously wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Trump’s emergency order to help fund his border wall. When Trump slammed Tillis, the Senator quickly flip-flopped and voted for the measure. Ever since, Tillis has been trying to stay in the president’s good graces to the point of humiliating himself and taking Trump’s abuse. 

Now, Tillis is again trying to sound like a voice of reason. As the election gets closer and Trump’s numbers continue to sink, expect Tillis to become more moderate and less effusive in his praise of the president. Openly siding with Cooper instead of the ReOpenNC crowd gives Tillis a chance to remake himself again. 

Tillis has never figured out that chasing public opinion instead of leading it is a losing strategy. Jesse Helms won re-election repeatedly because people knew where he stood, not because they necessarily agreed with him. Tillis’ blatant pandering has left him with very few supporters of any stripe. His poll numbers reflect it. While some of the GOP will hold their noses and vote for him, others will sit out his race altogether. He hopes he can regain support from the middle by striking a middle ground. More likely, people will see through his attempt to be all things to all people.

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