Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer. November 19, 2022.
Editor: Thom Tillis behaves moderately as promised. That will be tested soon.
Thom Tillis always seemed unsure of who he wanted to be.
The Republican senator this week joined a bipartisan group of peers to announce a settlement on the Respect for Marriage Act that helped the bill get the 60 votes needed to become law. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday by a 62-37 vote, with both Tillis and retired Senator Richard Burr supporting it.
Support for the Respect for Marriage Act signaled a political development for Tillis, who oversaw efforts to pass a 2012 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in North Carolina and continued to defend it even after it was repealed. (At the time, Tillis said marriage equality was a “generational issue” and the ban would likely be reversed in 20 years anyway.)
We’ve seen many different Thom Tillises over the years, and trying to keep track of them would give anyone a serious case of political whiplash. There’s the spineless Thom Tillis, the man who joins his Republicans to avoid political risk to himself. There’s Tillis, the flip-flop, who often says one thing and ends up doing the other.
Tillis ran for the Senate in 2014 with a promise to represent all of his purple constituents. Unfortunately for North Carolina, he then spent several years bowing to Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s worst instincts. But with Trump out of the White House, Tillis has finally begun to resemble the leader he had long said he would be: an independent voice willing to work across the aisle to make something happen effect.
Over the past year, Tillis has emerged as a thoughtful and productive Senate leader who has helped drive bipartisan legislation on key issues, including NATO expansion, a compromise on gun laws and reform of the Electoral Counts Act. Tillis has also become something of a kingmaker in North Carolina politics — he played a role in ousting embattled Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the May primary and has used his leadership PAC to lead Republican candidates in federal and state races to support financially.
Tillis tends to play all sides, and it’s a strategy that mostly just gets everyone mad. That made him one of the most vulnerable members of the Senate before his re-election – a race he might have lost had it not been for Cal Cunningham’s fatal political appeal.
We still saw shades of the flip-flop tillis from before. During Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearing in March, Tillis praised Jackson’s qualifications and her “historic” nomination, but ultimately voted against her confirmation. In August, Tillis voted against expanding PACT’s benefits for veterans, even though it was a bill he helped draft.
Still, this was evidenced by the bipartisanship that Tillis often talked about but only sometimes delivered. We’re heartened, but with a presidential election looming, he’ll soon face a test: Does this version of Thom Tillis only exist when Donald Trump isn’t in the room?
Trump’s hug helped Tillis stave off a major challenge in 2020, and he’ll almost certainly be under pressure to back him again in the near future. The closer the Republican Party gets to Trump, the further away it is from democracy. Tilli’s work on marriage equality and gun safety has already made him unpopular with many Republican voters, who call him a “RINO” and “traitor Thom.” Is he willing to risk his job for the good of his constituents and his country?
We’re not saying Thom Tillis should be a Democrat. But he must remember that many of the constituents he represents are. Many others are nonpartisan or independent voters, and they would like a senator to go his own way rather than being pulled to the right by others in his party.
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