There have been few empty suits as empty as Thom Tillis. Sure, we have a lot of politicians who want to be something more than they want to do something. But few get so far standing for so little as Thom Tillis. 

Yesterday, when Tillis was asked whether he thought it appropriate for the president to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival, he answered, “I’m going to leave it to the president to make that decision.” In other words, he’ll do whatever Trump says to do.

Just ten months ago, Tillis warned against withdrawing US troops from Syria saying, “I have concerns that withdrawal from Syria at the current time could lead to the resurgence of ISIS and provide a boost to Russia and Iran, giving those regimes a green light to expand their malign activities in the region. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I will be asking administration officials for details about the plan, including how it aligns with America’s national security strategy.” Yesterday, Tillis announced he supports Trump’s decision to pull out troops, abandoning the Kurds who defeated ISIS for us. Nothing substantial has changed on the ground in Syria since his statement in December except Trump’s actions.  

Tillis has based his entire political career on ambition. He has vaguely conservative views, but will take whatever stands best serve his own interests. Five years ago, I wrote in a piece for The Atlantic:

“Thom Tillis is a man in a hurry. He went from city councilor to North Carolina House speaker in just five years. Four months into his second term as speaker, he was running for U.S. Senate. The man who would hand the Republicans control of the Senate has been a lot of things in a short amount of time. And while he seems to know where he’s going, it’s less clear that he knows what he’ll do once he gets there.”

Now that he’s there, he still doesn’t know what he wants to do. He only knows what he wants to be. That’s no reason to get elected and certainly no service to the people of North Carolina. 

He’s been trying on different personas in an effort to define himself. He came to Washington as the independent willing to reach across party lines. Back then he said, “You have RINOs [Republicans In Need Of Outcomes] and DINOs [Democrats In Need Of Outcomes]. I’ve told people I want HIPPOs: Highly Independent People Producing Outcomes.” Briefly, he tried out the Trump skeptic role but quickly dropped that one after he wrote an op-ed critical of the president’s executive overreach and Trump went after him. He shamelessly debased himself by contradicting his own article in an effort to curry favor with the president

Now, he’s settled in as one of the lead Trumpers in the Senate, defending anything and everything the president does. His goal is solely to get re-elected. He’ll probably stick with this version of Thom Tillis at least through the primary. After that, who knows?

Sure, we’ve had people with few real convictions get elected to higher office. John Edwards comes to mind. But at least Edwards had a message that defined him. He introduced the idea of the two Americas and had a personal story to back it up. He was a populist, even if it turned out that he wasn’t sincere. 

Tillis, though, has nothing. He’s defined by what he’s been, not by what he’s done or what he believes. He’s been North Carolina House Speaker and he’s a US Senator. His main achievements are attaining positions of power. Nobody can tell where he stands because when circumstances change, he won’t be standing there anymore. Thom Tillis is the emptiest of suits. 


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