Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has a message to people thinking of abandoning President Donald Trump and the Republican Party in November’s elections: Remember how fine life was before the coronavirus pandemic?
The GOP incumbent, facing what polls show is a tough re-election race this fall, argued that voters should judge his party based on the economy’s performance before the spread of the disease ― and not the Trump administration’s bungled handling of a public health crisis that has resulted in the deaths of more than 130,000 people and left about 30 million unemployed Americans. Most GOP leaders ― including Tillis ― have been unwilling to publicly hold Trump accountable for the failed response.
“The stakes are very high this election, but you know why I know we’re going to win?” Tillis asked in a Friday night speech at the North Carolina Republican convention, which was held virtually because of the spread of coronavirus. “Because people remember how good their lives were back in February.”
Pressing his point, Tillis said, “Can you imagine if we had had a Democrat president and a Democrat majority in the Senate and the House, what our economy would’ve looked like at the worst possible time? At least we had that economy to buttress us while we fight and ultimately win the COVID war.”
Although it’s true the economy hit a peak in February and then spiraled into a devastating downturn due to pandemic, elections tend to be contests about the future, not the past. Republicans up and down the ticket will have to defend their record regarding the current state of the nation ― and things looking aren’t good at the moment.
By every objective measure, the U.S. is lagging badly behind other industrialized Western nations in bringing the virus to heel. Some states are beginning to reimpose coronavirus restrictions on businesses in order to halt the spread of the diseases, actions that will likely lead to further worsening in the economy.
Although North Carolina hasn’t seen a sharp increase of coronavirus infections as other states across the South, cases have begun trending up in recent weeks. The state reported 112 COVID-19 deaths since July 6, for a total of 1,510.
Tillis faces Democrat Cal Cunningham, a military veteran and former state senator, in November. Cunningham’s allies slammed Tillis on Tuesday, saying he attempted to whitewash the coronavirus pandemic and his party’s handling of the crisis.
“This administration has bungled the coronavirus response and Sen. Tillis has enabled them every step of the way. Now, Sen. Tillis is just trying to wish it away,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement. “Sen. Tillis is desperate because he’s a weak, self-serving politician, and his shameless belief that we can just wish away coronavirus only serves to reveal that he’s thinking of his own reelection, not North Carolinians’ well-being.”
Tillis won his seat in 2014 amid another global health scare caused by the Ebola virus. The former North Carolina state House speaker was outspoken in criticizing then-President Barack Obama and North Carolina’s then-Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan for not preparing enough before the outbreak. He was also one of the first Republicans to call for a travel ban on flights from West Africa.
“This president has failed the American people. Sen. Hagan has been with him, with her rubber stamp, every step of the way. Our safety and security is more threatened now than it has ever been,” Tillis said at the time.
Tillis edged Hagan by two-percentage-points in what was a strong GOP showing in the midterm election.
Now, after the outbreak of a far more lethal disease, Tillis remains one of Trump’s most stalwart allies on Capitol Hill. In one of his typical defenses of the president’s response to the virus, he said in April that Trump was “taking every step he can to help the safety of the people in the United States.”
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