Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., called for Republicans to reach across the aisle to work toward meaningful solutions rather than mistakenly assuming there was a conservative mandate, in an op-ed in The Charlotte Observer last week.
“Let’s be clear: the American people didn’t give the GOP a stamp of approval or a mandate to ram through an ideologically driven, far-right agenda," Tillis said. "If the election was a mandate for anything, it was for elected officials in both parties to break through the gridlock to finally start producing results.”
David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College, said Tillis made a smart decision to try and position himself as a moderate at a time of intense ideological conflict.
He said President Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican, and Tillis might be able to act as a broker between the president and the more conservative members of Congress.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor, said Tillis was correct that Republicans did not win a mandate in the traditional sense.
A mandate comes from a large, almost overwhelming majority vote, Guillory said — and Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
Rob Schofield, director of policy and research for North Carolina Policy Watch, a progressive public policy think tank, said he is not fully convinced Sen. Tillis will adhere to the statements he made in his op-ed.
Schofield said Tillis, while speaker of the state House of Representatives, was a strong force for pushing a conservative agenda and was instrumental in limiting legislative debate in order to move bills to a vote.
“He made his name with a sort of take-no-prisoners approach to governance,” Schofield said.
Tillis said in the op-ed that he is not content with divisive politics and is willing to work with Democrats on important issues such as immigration, the criminal justice system and infrastructure.
“Republicans are in power and have the potential to deliver historic results — but only if we work together with the Democrats who also want to see progress,” Tillis said.
Guillory said Tillis recognizes he has to run in 2020 in an electorate that voted for both Republicans and Democrats in 2016 — and being identified as a far-right ideologue is not a smart position to have in North Carolina.
“There’s a political rationale for Sen. Tillis to want to position himself as less ideological and more of a problem solver on selected issues,” he said.
Tillis has not exactly made a name for himself in Washington, while his approval rating in North Carolina has not been good, Schofield said.
Data published in April 2016 by Public Policy Polling, a polling firm based in Raleigh, showed that Tillis had a 23 percent approval rating in North Carolina. Thirty-eight percent of those polled said they disapproved of Tillis’ job performance, and 39 percent were not sure, according to the poll.
Guillory said with a Republican majority, Democratic votes are not needed to legislate, and Republicans will have to decide whether they will forge a working relationship with them.
“Tillis has sent out a really strong challenge to Republicans to shift from the kinds of governance they have exercised over the past six to eight years,” he said.
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