Some things I find truly mystifying. For example, the North Carolina Senate race is one of the closest races in the country. Given North Carolina’s recent electoral history, you would think the race would be a slam-dunk for the Republican candidate. After a brief moment of insanity in 2008, the state has since sent Republican super-majorities to the state General Assembly twice(!), replaced an incumbent Democrat governor with a Republican, flipped 4 Congressional districts from Democrat to Republican (going from 8D-5R to 4D-9R), re-elected a Republican Senator, and voted for the Republican Presidential candidate in 2012. So, why is the race so close and not a blow-out for Thom Tillis?
The primary reason appears to be less-than-enthusiastic support for Tillis from the right-wing of the party. Somewhere along the line, Tillis became branded with the “Establishment” label by party activists. In more conservative circles, “Establishment” typically translates into “sell-out” owing largely to the tendency among GOP leaders to avoid political fights in favor of appeasement of liberal Democrats. Definitionally, I suppose you could use the “Establishment” label in regards to Tillis. He is, after all, Speaker of the House. However, in this case, I believe that the “sell-out” corollary is inaccurate. A look at his tenure as Speaker will reveal that he is the type of leader that these activists want, even if they haven’t quite realized it yet.
Over his two terms as Speaker, Tillis has helped push North Carolina politics right-ward in a way that would have been unimaginable even five years ago. His list of accomplishments is impressive and includes most of the items on every conservative’s wish list. He helped push through one of the most significant tax cuts in North Carolina history, simplifying the tax code and dropping rates across the board. He helped restore balance to the state budget, restore stability to the state’s Medicaid spending, and took an axe to a variety of state programs (most notably at DENR). On the social issues side, he led the charge for the state marriage protection amendment in the House and helped pass a package of new abortion notification requirements and regulations. Under his leadership, the House also passed an election reform law, the most notable aspect of which was a new photo-ID requirement for all voters. He also facilitated passage and approval of new election precinct maps, which corrected many of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts and will provide a competitive landscape for Republican candidates for years to come.
In short, Tillis helped usher in the conservative revolution that has swept North Carolina politics over the last four years. He has accomplished what he was elected to do, namely restore the vitality of the state’s economy and scale back the size of the state government. North Carolina has become a model for conservative reformers in other states who are looking to restore government to its proper role. Indeed, with a little adaptation, the North Carolina model could easily be applied to many of the problems plaguing the federal government.
This is why it is so curious that Tillis has not attracted more Tea Party-esque support. One wonders, what more do they want? Tillis lacks the skillful oratory of Ted Cruz, but he has proven himself a very capable conservative reformer. In addition, on more than one occasion, he has stared down the Democrats and won. Prior to the Republicans’ super-majority status in the House, Tillis managed to override several important vetoes from Democrat Governor Bev Perdue. Without compromising his own position, he was able to pressure enough Democrats to switch votes that the House was able to override the vetoes on such things as the state budget and the lifting of the fracking moratorium. Tillis wasn’t abandoning his principles. He was convincing the Democrats to abandon theirs! The very existence of the weekly pity party on Jones Street (the so-called “Moral” Monday crowd) and the pathetic protests from the state’s most radical leftist groups should be a clue that perhaps Tillis is doing something right.
Tillis is exactly the type of reformer that conservative activists have been clamoring for. That these people are branding him with the “Establishment” label simply because he happens to hold a powerful leadership position is simply ridiculous. Would they abandon Ted Cruz if he happened to become Senate Majority Leader or if Karl Rove decided to cut him a check? The GOP needs leaders like Tillis, leaders who are willing to face down the opposition, push through conservative reforms, and assume leadership roles within the party and government. The country needs leaders like Tillis, and the Conservative Movement would be passing up on a unique opportunity to get one of their own into the Senate and (likely) into the party leadership.Despite the fact that he has attracted support from actual Rockefeller Republicans (looking at you, Jeb), Tillis is a proven conservative reformer who could do much good for the country and the party. A vote for Tillis wouldn’t be a compromise vote. It would be a step forward.