It would be bad enough if North Carolina’s junior senator, Thomas “Thom” Tillis, had merely voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court this past Saturday after hearing the heartrending testimony delivered by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
It was even worse that Tillis has attempted to justify his action with the ridiculous, condescending and duplicitous excuse that, while he believed that Ford had been sexually assaulted by quote “someone,” he wasn’t convinced she remembered accurately that it was Kavanaugh who was the perpetrator.
But it was only after the final confirmation vote this weekend that Tillis truly hit the lowest of low points in his consistently abysmal performance on the Kavanaugh nomination. That moment came when the senator issued a preposterously sanctimonious statement attacking those who opposed the nomination as having waged a “smear campaign” against “one of the most eminently qualified individuals to be nominated to serve on the Supreme Court in recent memory.”
In the statement, Tillis even descended so low as to deride Democratic senators for supposedly failing to “keep an open mind” and treating Kavanaugh unfairly during the confirmation process. According to Tillis, “this was never about being fair, conducting proper vetting, or taking their advise and consent duties seriously; it was all about denying a Supreme Court seat to Judge Kavanaugh or any other qualified individual who would have been nominated by the President in order to fire up their base on the eve of an election.”
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at such sophistry and blatant hypocrisy from a man who cravenly abetted the hyper-cynical Republican plan to block Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland without so much as a hearing for nearly an entire year.
Garland, as you will recall, is a centrist former prosecutor and veteran chief judge of the most important federal circuit court in the land. He once heroically oversaw the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and possesses an impeccable personal reputation. To even insinuate that a career right-wing partisan of extreme views and a checkered past like Kavanaugh is in the same league with Garland is an insult to the intelligence of all Americans. To go even further, as Tillis did, and claim that a proper vetting process for a Supreme Court nominee would not thoroughly examine Kavanaugh’s past personal misconduct, his documented instances of dishonesty, his frequently non-judicial demeanor and his rampant partisanship is downright ludicrous and cowardly.
But, of course, Tillis is no stranger to embarrassing insincerity and a demonstrable lack of courage when directives come down to him from the far right powers that be. This is, after all, a public official who frequently, on some level, knows better.
Tillis knew, years ago when as North Carolina House Speaker he presided over the birth of the infamous same-sex marriage ban known as Amendment One, that it was a bad idea. Indeed, he later all but admitted it. Still, when push came to shove, he was there to help place the amendment on the ballot and pass it in order to enshrine discrimination in the constitution.
Similar incidents have occurred since he joined the Senate. On issues like the rights of young immigrants, Trump’s Muslim ban, the probe into Russian election interference and, most recently, climate change, Tillis has repeatedly signaled an understanding that denizens of the extreme right-wing fringe are wrong. Even early on in the Garland blockade, Tillis expressed an initial inclination to hold hearings.
When it comes, however, to assuming real ownership of such positions and actually taking a public stand for what’s right, Tillis invariably runs for cover.
This situation is most blatantly obvious in Tillis’s kid gloves treatment of Trump. Tillis may be conservative and, as Sam Houston once famously said of Jefferson Davis, “ambitious as Lucifer” (what else would you say about a man who once talked about the need to “divide and conquer” people receiving public assistance?), but it’s obvious he also grasps the fact that Trump is a dangerous liar and narcissistic bully. If investigators and prosecutors ever finally do catch up with Trump, you can rest assured that, within hours, Tillis will have forgotten he ever met the man.
And yet, this obvious fact doesn’t stop him from sending fundraising pleas in which he asks his supporters to “stand with President Trump” or from attempting to cast President Obama as the villain in his convoluted eleventh hour acknowledgment that climate change is real.
The bottom line: It would have been a shocking event in North Carolina political history (and a decidedly out-of-character moment) if Thom Tillis has somehow mustered the courage to buck the right-wing establishment by opposing Brett Kavanaugh. North Carolinians get that. We understand that our junior senator is, like our senior senator, a man for whom political self-preservation is always, far and away, the top priority.
That said, Tillis could at least do the service of sparing us the sanctimonious and self-righteous post mortems. The only person he’s fooling with such nonsense is himself.