Thom Tillis Went Full Trump. Now He’s D.C.’s Most Vulnerable Republican

Erin Schaff-Pool / Getty
Republican Senator Thom Tillis is a loud voice in committee hearings that drives the Obamagate conspiracy and reads the dictionary definitions of "witch hunt" and "prank".
But he doesn't talk about that at home in North Carolina and runs for re-election. In his first television commercial he walks through a caravan site and remembers his humble roots (the spot is titled "Humble"). He promises to be a fighter for workers and protect their jobs while the economy recovers.
His family moved a lot, he was one of six children and he worked his way through college. Good for him. But he's been in Washington for six years, and whoever put the ad together may not have noticed that Tillis wears a $ 110 Tommy Bahama polo shirt.
NC GOP worry ridge scandal could defeat Tillis
"He tries to reinvent himself shortly before an election by focusing on his humble roots, but he has consistently voted against a policy that would help people get business leaders and education leaders up," says Morgan Jackson, a political strategist in Raleigh. "It's not just where you come from, it's what you do with it."
In a second ad, "Pay Day," Tillis goes behind the counter of a restaurant where burgers on the grill are reminiscent of his days as a short-term cook and say he fights for people "forgotten by our politics".
Whose politics forgot? Control over the U.S. Senate is at stake, and Tillis is one of the most vulnerable senators. He may be best known for getting lots of money from big pharmaceutical companies, big oil companies, big banks and payday lenders and driving their preferred policies. In a Morning Consult poll last year, he had the lowest approval rate of all senators at 34 percent.
His biographical ads are a belated attempt to get voters to like him. But which voters? He had a problematic relationship with President Trump and was booed twice at a Trump rally, most recently in March of this year.
He had to fill up Trump to win his area code on Super Tuesday, and he's now trying to increase voter turnout in the countryside by convincing these voters that he is one of them.
When Trump's number tank keeps Tillis's head bowed, neither party represents the governor and the president for holding the GOP convention in Charlotte, and even praises democratic governor Roy Cooper for his slow approach to opening up the economy. But Tillis can't escape his past - or present - as an anti-Obamacare Republican who boasted that he "stopped Medicaid cold" when he was the North Carolina legislature spokesman.
"When he talks about humble roots and where he comes from, he has taken more money from the pharmaceutical industry than any other member of Congress," Morgan Jackson told The Daily Beast, repeating "as any other member of Congress," pointing out the impact This financial support for the question of where his interests might be, such as reducing the cost of prescription drugs, a major problem for voters, or treating opioid addiction.
As an aspiring Republican before Trump, Tillis boasted that he was a RINO and formulated the label as a Republican who needed results. His results generally favor the well-heeled and corporate interests. Only 7 percent of his campaign contributions for the first quarter of this year came from small donations. He endeavored to give tax-fighting pharmaceutical companies access to "struggling" pharmaceutical companies as part of the CARES Act program, which was designed for small businesses.
When oil prices fell, Tillis wrote a letter to the government urging that there be no "oil and gas bias" in the distribution of economic aid funds. After a White House industry summit on April 3, Tillis received over $ 60,000 PAC checks from companies that attended the summit.
Payday lenders were a favorite of Tillis' projects going back to his time as a state legislator. As spokesman for the North Carolina House in 2013, he received over $ 30,000 from industry, the largest of all state legislators. In Washington, he continued his alliance with this industry, which is always under fire because of its usury interest. In a hearing by the Senate Banking Committee on March 10, Tillis denied allegations that payday lenders could fall victim to people severely affected by the corona virus. "As a child who grew up on 90-day notes with my father," Tillis warned of "overreaching" or "painting with a broad brush," an industry he sees as a lifeline. Within days of the hearing, he had received more than $ 20,000 from four major payday lenders.
A day after a group of 24 bipartisan attorneys general, including Josh Stein of North Carolina AG, wrote a letter against a new "Rent-A-Bank" rule that would benefit payday lenders, Tillis received $ 12,500 from industry and consumer finance companies will fight their battles in Washington.
When the large banks were sued by small business owners for giving their corporate customers priority in providing government aid, Tillis raised more than $ 43,000 from the PACs of the banks named in the lawsuit - Bank Of America, JPMorgan Chase, US Bank and Wells Fargo said he had seen no evidence that they favored large companies over small companies.
"This guy is pretty much the epitome of a weather vane," says Tom Mills, founder and editor of, a website with comments and analysis. "He was elected to the state legislature by Charlotte in 2006. He is a cyclist. He lived in Cornelius, a small town, and because he wanted more cycle paths, he did not have the typical profile of a Republican legislature."
He rose to become a spokesman in a chamber increasingly dominated by Tea Party republicans, which was not easy for the Mister Establishment that Tillis had become. He had always been better at finding the nearest office than knowing what to do when he was there. So he took a flyer and challenged Democrat Kay Hagan in 2014, benefiting from a late Ebola scare and videos of ISIS members beheading Americans. It was a banner year for the Republicans, but it only won with 1.7 percentage points.
He wasn't very present in Washington until he wrote a Washington Post comment in February 2019 saying he supported Trump's border control policy, but rejected the President's national emergency statement to get money for his wall. Trump crushed Tillis on Twitter and vowed to recruit someone to fight him at GOP elementary school.
In March 2019, 12 Senate Republicans joined the Democrats to block Trump's declaration of emergency. Tillis was not one of them. It was a big surrender and one of the few things that voters surely know about Tillis. It would have distracted millions of projects that would replace the aging infrastructure on the state's military bases. Politifacts declared it a "full flop" on its flip-o-meter.
Jessica Taylor with the Cook Political Report, a bipartisan newsletter, says Tillis' ads are a contrast to "justified" democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, an attorney, former senator, and veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to represent. Cook rates the race as a mistake and Edwards notes that Tillis could pull fewer votes than Trump.
North Carolina is the only battlefield state with a competitive Senate seat and governor race. Cook rates Roy Cooper's reelection offer as democratic.
"In a race like this (Tillis vs. Cunningham), the political environment matters as long as neither side does something catastrophic," said Mills. "And if Joe Biden wins North Carolina, Cal Cunningham is the North Carolina senator. And if Trump wins with a point, Tillis has a shot. If Trump wins with a point, it's hard to know."
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