On Saturday, more than two-thirds of delegates at the North Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention in Greensboro approved a motion to censure U.S. Senator Thom Tillis over his political positions that differ from the party’s platform.
Activist Republican delegates pushed for Tillis’ censure, primarily over the Tar Heel State’s senior senator’s support for gay marriage and immigration reform. However, leaders within the state party did not openly back the drive to censure Tillis.
Billing himself as a strong conservative, voters elected Tillis to the U.S. Senate in 2014. During his time in office, Tillis has evolved his stances on hot-button issues while showing a willingness to work across party lines.
In November, Tillis joined 11 other Republican Senators in supporting the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which codified same-sex marriage into federal law. Then-Senator Richard Burr, R-NC, also supported the bill which President Joe Biden later signed into law.
Tillis previously opposed same-sex marriage, including advocating for a 2012 referendum that amended the N.C. state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Tillis’ pro-gay marriage stance contradicts the NCGOP’s platform, which states that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
Tillis has also collaborated with Democratic lawmakers on immigration. In December, Tillis attempted to formulate a bipartisan immigration deal with Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema, then a Democrat, which ensured a path to citizenship for many illegal aliens and migrants. However, the deal fell through after not receiving widespread support in the Senate.
Tillis has also clashed with former President Donald Trump, who spoke at the convention, on the issue. In 2019, Tillis initially opposed Trump’s plan to use military funding to build a wall on the United States’ border with Mexico, though he later supported it.
Tillis’ political stances and bipartisan habits have drawn the ire of conservative activists within the NCGOP, reaching a climax during this previous weekend’s convention when delegates voted to censure the Senator.
However, the resolution censuring Tillis did not lay out any specific policy concerns, instead reading “Republican voters have an expectation that their candidates will adhere to the Party platform.”
An amendment advocating Tillis’ censure was added to the resolution following its initial publication, stating, “Does hereby censure Senator Thom Tillis for his blatant violations of our party platform.”
The motion was approved on a 799-361 vote, exceeding the two-thirds majority required to be passed by convention delegates.
Shortly after the vote, Daniel Keylin, a Senior Advisor to Tillis, released a statement to media outlets defending the Senator.
“Senator Tillis keeps his promises and delivers results. 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,” said Keylin.
Allies of Tillis criticized the censure. Pat McCrory, who served as N.C. governor during Tillis’ time as Speaker of the House, took to Twitter to voice his displeasure.
“I join former Governor Jim Martin in opposing the censure against Senator Thom Tillis. It’s time also for all N.C. state and federal elected Republicans to stand with Thom and publicly voice their opposition to the action taken at our convention,” said McCrory.
Censuring a Republican U.S. Senator is not a new phenomenon for the NCGOP. In February 2021, the party’s central committee censured then-Senator Richard Burr following his vote to convict former President Trump for his role in the U.S. Capitol Building storming. Burr also faced allegations that he committed insider trading, which he denied, leading to criticism from influential right-wingers such as Tucker Carlson.
While being censured does not levy any official sanctions against Tillis, the move does indicate the party’s base is increasingly unhappy with his stint in the U.S. Senate, to which he was re-elected in 2020 by a small margin against a scandal-ridden Democratic opponent.
A High Point University poll from August 2022 showed Tillis’ approval rating at 23 percent, with the caveat that over one-third of N.C. voters were unfamiliar with the Senator. These numbers are a dip from a 2020 HPU poll which showed Tillis with 33 percent approval among potential voters.
While Senator Tillis can run for re-election in 2026, he has yet to publicly confirm whether he will campaign for a third term. If he does, Tillis may potentially face a GOP primary challenge from the right.