Conservative delegates to the annual North Carolina Republican Party convention voted Saturday to censure the state’s senior U.S. senator, a member of their own party, for votes that delegates said went against the party’s views on key issues, according to reports from WRAL.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican who has served in Congress since 2015, has attempted in recent years to work on bipartisan deals in Congress on hot-button issues — particularly guns, immigration and gay marriage — which have left some conservatives feeling dissatisfied with his record. The official resolution against Tillis is vague, saying he is being censured for “blatant violations of our party platform.”
A Tillis spokesman said Saturday after the vote that the senator “keeps his promises and delivers results.”
State Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union, told WRAL that the dissatisfaction started building several years ago when Tillis initially opposed then-President Donald Trump’s plan to shift millions of dollars from military construction projects toward building a wall along the Mexican border. Tillis eventually changed his position and supported Trump’s plan, but conservatives never forgot his initial stance.
The final straw for the GOP base, Brody said, was Tillis’ work on the Respect For Marriage Act last year, which codified legal protections for same-sex marriage—something the GOP officially opposes in its national and state party platforms, Brody said.
Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin defended Tillis’ record, and conservative credentials.
“He will never apologize for his work passing the largest tax cut in history, introducing legislation to secure the border and end sanctuary cities, delivering desperately-needed funding to strengthen school safety, and protecting the rights of churches to worship freely based on their belief in traditional marriage,” Keylin wrote in an email.
A spokesman for the state Republican Party didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tillis previously served as the state legislature’s House speaker after Republicans swept into power following the 2010 Tea Party wave. Brody served with Tillis in the state legislature and said Saturday he personally likes Tillis but also supported the vote to censure him.
According to WRAL, the vote Saturday can’t remove Tillis from office, but it serves as a message that the party base isn’t happy with his efforts to reach across the aisle on big, controversial issues.
“As a party, we can be a squishy party and say, ‘Well, we’re going to try to appeal to everybody,’” Brody said. “Or we can set a standard, and say ‘This is where we want to go,’ and let the public decide.”
The public, or at least the grassroots conservative public, made their decision loud and clear Saturday.
Charles Hellwig, a Republican political consultant who has worked both with and against Tillis in past elections, said Saturday that he was shocked by the vote. The party intentionally set a very high bar for these sorts of resolutions, he said, requiring at least 66% of the vote to make sure resolutions can only pass if they’re broadly popular.
“That’s a big hurdle to cross, getting two out of three delegates to support a motion like that,” Hellwig said. “It just demonstrates how unpopular he is among the grassroots activists and core party base.”
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