Facing Primary Challenge, Once-Proud ‘RINO’ Thom Tillis Converts to MAGA

‘Neither Thom Tillis or Garland Tucker supported President Trump during the 2016 presidential primary…’

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Thom Tillis/Photo by Gage Skidmore

(Lionel Parrott, Liberty Headlines) Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, is trying to bolster his pro-Trump credentials as he attempts to head off at least one primary challenger from the Right.

In recent weeks, Tillis has made numerous media appearances defending the president on a multitude of topics.

He now appears to be among the president’s most ardent supporters.

It’s a strange about-face for Tillis, who once had a reputation for defying the president.

In the past, he’s angered conservatives with legislation protecting the Mueller investigation, told an audience that he was proud to be a “RINO” and penned an op-ed condemning the president’s emergency declaration on the border (which he ultimately supported after an outcry from North Carolina conservatives).

Then again, perhaps it’s not that strange.

Tillis is facing a primary challenge in the form of Garland Tucker, a multimillionaire conservative businessman.

Tucker has enough personal wealth to finance his own campaign—but he’s also assisted by some of Tillis’s former big-name donors.

Tucker is already on television, and polls show the incumbent has weak support among conservatives.

It looks like the Tillis campaign has decided on a straightforward strategy: Defend the president as much as possible and hope that dissatisfied conservatives will forget about his previous transgressions.

In doing so, Tillis has gone even further than most other Republican senators.

Maybe it’s because he has more to prove.

Case in point: Tillis was one of the only Republicans to come out in support of Trump’s decision imposing tariffs on Mexico as a tactic to confront the border crisis.

On “America’s Newsroom,” Tillis said: “I’m a free-trader, but I do think we have to make it very clear: When you take advantage of our open economy, when you steal our intellectual property, when you don’t cooperate with us on things that are also important—like securing the border—then the president has to have those tools available to come to a good solution for the American people and our trading partners.”

Others, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., were much more hesitant.

Gardner, also up for re-election in 2020, told Roll Call : “I don’t think tariffs anywhere are a good idea. I think they’re a tax on the American consumer. I don’t support them.”

And Sen. Mitch McConnell made it clear Tillis was an outlier, telling reporters: “There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure.”

Tillis’s media push hasn’t been limited to the tariffs issue.

Two weeks ago, he appeared on Fox News’ “Outnumbered Overtime,” defending Trump’s negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

“Trump has got advisers that are going to give him the best available information,” he told hosts. “He strained to build a relationship, to do something that no other president has been able to do, and that’s to denuclearize North Korea and get to a more solid relationship going forward.”

Later in the interview, Tillis called Trump a “patriot” who is “looking out for the United States’ best interest.”

And Tillis, who in the past wanted to weaken the president’s ability to fire Robert Mueller, now doesn’t want to even hear about impeachment proceedings.

“Why on earth would we give a platform to something that I judge as a purely political exercise?” he said. “We have to perform our constitutional duty, but if people think that we’re going to try and create a theater that could give you the perception that this is a matter that rises to the level of Watergate, that’s nonsense.”

The Senate race got another dose of irony on Friday when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, came out in support of Tillis.

Graham, formerly a centrist adversary of the president, has become one of Trump’s stalwart supporters—and his endorsement could be an asset in Tillis when it comes to reaching out to voters skeptical of his Trump loyalties.

On Twitter, Graham reminded followers that Tillis helped confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other conservatives to the judiciary and would “continue to stand for Donald Trump’s agenda.”

Expect more Washington Republicans to come to Tillis’s aid.

The incumbent’s media push is being combined with efforts from establishment GOPers to quash any rival to his candidacy.

It looks like the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund are gearing up to portray Tucker as an anti-Trump activist, highlighting the businessman’s opposition to Trump in the 2016 primary.

A spokesman for Tucker said Tillis’s allies were being disingenuous.

“Neither Thom Tillis or Garland Tucker supported President Trump during the 2016 presidential primary,” said Francis De Luca, formerly head of the conservative Civitas Institute.

“Since the president was elected, Garland Tucker has praised his stands on issues repeatedly in articles and op-eds. Now, to get re-elected, Thom Tillis is telling voters he’s pro-Trump. It’s pure Washington politics.”