NC Republicans Censure Sen. Thom Tillis for Seeking Political Compromise

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. in 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

By Michael McElroy

June 12, 2023

During the state Republican convention, attendees applauded attacks against LGBTQ rights and cheered for newly-indicted Donald Trump, but sought to punish Tillis’s bipartisan efforts.

North Carolina is set to be a key battleground in the 2024 elections, and as national Republicans face a fight between their far-right extremes and those issuing muted calls for moderation, the state party left little doubt this weekend of where its loyalties lie.

During the North Carolina Republican convention this weekend, attendees applauded Gov. Ron DeSantis as he bragged about Florida’s aggressive attack against LGBTQ rights. They also cheered for the newly-indicted former president Donald Trump as he defended his right to store highly-classified and unsecured military and nuclear documents in a bathroom at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

And in the pause between those two speeches, the state party members also voted to censure Sen. Thom Tillis for working to find common ground with Democrats.

Tillis is known for working to find a compromise on several contentious issues, including gun safety laws, same sex-marriage and the recent vote to raise the debt ceiling. This willingness to work across the aisle prompted the censure, attendees told WRAL, who first reported the vote.

Though the formal resolution for censure was vague, WRAL wrote, it cited Tillis’s “blatant violations of our party platform.”

Tillis, who was reelected in 2020 by fewer than 100,000 votes, has played a key role in brokering agreements with Senate Democrats, many of which cleared the way to pass legislation, despite  far-right Republicans’ attempts to paralyze the process with hyper-partisanship.

In the last few years, Tillis has helped find agreement on votes to:

  • Codify same-sex marriage protections into federal law.
  • Enact some modest new gun laws and invest in mental healthcare
  • Raise the debt ceiling, ensuring the country does not default on its debt and plunge into an economic crisis.

Tillis was praised by some in his party and condemned by others who saw compromise itself as weakness and disloyalty, the Washington Post reported.

“Tillis’s willingness to find compromise despite the political blowback is desperately needed, his colleagues say, as a wave of retirements has taken many more bipartisan-minded lawmakers out of the chamber just as it needs to find a way to compromise with a narrow and fractious House Republican majority that barely managed to elect a speaker earlier this month,” The Post wrote.

State Republicans voted to censure Tillis by a 2-to-1 margin. 

The vote “sends a terrible message to independents,” Wayne King, a former NC Republican party official told the News and Observer. It suggests the party “doesn’t welcome anyone who doesn’t abide by every word of a party platform that only a few thousand delegates voted on,”

If that message continues, he said, “North Carolina will become a blue state.”

When Rep. Tricia Cotham switched parties from Democrat to Republican in April, she said she did so because Democrats allowed no dissent and forced all members to toe the line. In the press conference announcing the switch, North Carolina Republican leaders pitched the party as a big tent with room for competing views.

As of this weekend, however, that tent apparently no longer has room for Tillis. 


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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