Thom Tillis officially has a primary challenger for his re-election bid — Raleigh financier Garland Tucker, who filed paperwork Monday to run for the seat in 2020.

And North Carolina’s junior senator from Cornelius already has his attack lines planned.

“Senator Tillis is no stranger to primaries and he is fully prepared for another,” Tillis’s campaign manager told the media. “He looks forward to defending President Trump and his policies against any anti-Trump activist who chooses to enter the race.”

Anti-Trump activist. It’s an interesting way to describe Garland Tucker. In reality, Tucker’s take on Trump is many times more nuanced, and a refreshingly honest view of the 45th president.

Tucker is the former founder and CEO of Triangle Capital Corporation, a successful banker and businessman. Conservative politics seems to have long been his passion.

He’s a prolific writer for publications like National Review, The Daily Caller and Real Clear Policy. He’s also the author of the book “Conservative Heroes: Fourteen Leaders Who Changed America – Jefferson to Reagan.” Principles of limited government and personal responsibility have run through all of his writing.

Garland Tucker

As a Republican pundit, he’s certainly written his fair share about President Donald Trump.

In an op-ed published shortly before the 2016 election, Tucker owned up to backing Gov. Scott Walker, then Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich. He eloquently summed up true conservatives’ qualms about the Manhattan real estate mogul.

But he’s no never-Trumper. Tucker said he was voting for Trump as the least bad choice.

“My best hope is that the core of the Republican Party and our leadership remain committed to basic conservative principles and can exert sufficient pressure on Trump as president to govern as a conservative,” he wrote. How prophetic. That quickly became the position of most of the mainstream Republican Party.

And since then, Tucker has been fairly even-handed toward Trump. In a February 2019 op-ed, he was downright charitable toward the president, siding with Trump over Tillis.

In the North State Journal, Tucker defends Trump while talking about the nomination of Thomas Farr for a judicial position, which Tillis opposed.

“A dominant characteristic of the swamp is its ability to stop ‘outsiders’ — like President Trump — dead in their tracks,” Tucker wrote. “An ongoing example of this is Trump’s fight to appoint conservative judges.”

In general, Tucker appears to genuinely wish Trump success. Of course, he continually calls on Trump to adhere to conservative principles, which is not always a given. He cheers Trump when he does, but isn’t afraid to call him out when he doesn’t.

This sets up a fascinating primary battle between Tillis and Tucker.

Trump-hugging doesn’t come naturally to Thom Tillis. In fact, Tillis just tried to position himself as skeptic of Trump’s call to use a state of emergency declaration to build the wall on the southern border, complete with a Washington Post column.

That principled stand, which most conservatives could get behind, didn’t last. He ended up voting with Trump on the border. And now it seems like Tillis is counting on Trump to back him in 2020, when he’ll be one of the most vulnerable senators in the country.

For his part, Tucker will be portraying Tillis as a “typical Washington politician,” as consultant Carter Wrenn told the N&O.

That might be an easier sell.

Cover image by The King’s College

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