Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis announced that he would vote for the resolution rejecting Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. Tillis said in an op-ed in the Washington Post that he supports Trump’s “vision of 21stcentury border security,” but that the emergency declaration overstepped the executive branch’s power. He believes it violates the separation of powers and continues giving too much influence to the presidency. 

Tillis has a valid point. He’s also concerned what Democrats would do if they could use a national emergency in the way Trump is using it now. In my view, climate change is much more of a national emergency than poor people crossing our border. Imagine what a president could do if emergency orders become just another tool in the presidential toolbox. 

However, don’t think Tillis is making this move without serious political considerations. His op-ed is targeted to thinking conservatives to show why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s also looking at North Carolina and calculating that he’s going to be running for re-election on a ticket with an unpopular president. Morning Consult shows Trump underwater by four points in North Carolina. In 2018, Democrats received a majority of the votes for Congress and legislature. Tillis knows that he can’t win in North Carolina with Trump supporters alone. He needs to peel off moderates who are frustrated with the president. 

If Tillis thought he might face a serious primary challenge, I doubt he would be making this move. He would need to prove to GOP primary voters that he’s the most pro-Trump candidate. But with the primary just a year away and nobody of stature emerging, he’s already making his case for the general election. He wants to show himself to be the conservative candidate but not a blind follower of the president.

Tillis is right to oppose Trump declaring the situation on our border a national emergency. His reasoning is also correct. We’ve given our presidents way too much unchecked power over the last 75 years that’s led to abuse of power, including putting us into too many wars. However, he didn’t do it just because of his convictions. He did it because he believes it’s good politics. He puts some daylight between himself and the president and he can argue that it’s the conservative position to do so. With little grumbling from the Trumpers, he appears to have made a pretty good bet. 

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