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In The News: Thom Tillis’ Offensive “Traditional Population” Comments

GREENSBORO – Yesterday, Thom Tillis’ candidacy was called into doubt as he made local and national headlines for his deeply offensive and incendiary comments where he separated African American and Hispanic North Carolinians from the “traditional population of North Carolina and the United States” in a 2012 interview.

Here is what North Carolinians are seeing in the news about Thom Tillis’ “divide and conquer” style comments that separate North Carolinians into groups:

Rachel Maddow Show: (Click to watch)


Maddow: That video of him talking about dividing and conquering the sick and poor, turning the sick against the poor, specifically, ‘we’re not taking care of you.’  That video is from 2011 and it just quietly simmered on the internet for three years until Thom Tillis got that Senate nomination and suddenly he became important enough that people started digging through all his old tape…Maddow: Now, Thom Tillis has also been dug up on tape explaining who exactly he considers to be a traditional North Carolina voter, the Thom Tillis-Kay Hagan Senate race just got tilted in a pretty significant way.  This is sort of like George Allen and his ‘macaca’ comments in the Virginia Senate race.  This is like a guy turning up on tape saying he wants to divide the poor from the sick so he can conquer both of them, since he is neither. This is not way you win a United States Senate seat in the state of North Carolina.  Not anymore, at least.  Watch this North Carolina Senate race over the next days or weeks.   Republicans thought they picked the perfect guy with Thom Tillis, but these two clips that you just saw, these have all just surfaced since they picked him for the nomination. What else is out there that still hasn’t come out?”

Washington Post:

“North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis told the Carolina Business Review that the ‘traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing.’ He was drawing a contrast to the black and Latino populations, which are growing.  While it’s pretty clearly a political mistake to appear to refer to white voters as a state’s ‘traditional population,’ Tillis is also wrong on the numbers…Given Tillis’ actual words, that explanation doesn’t make much sense.

Asheville Citizen Times:

“Tillis in a TV interview separated minorities from the state’s ‘traditional’ population. He said on Carolina Business Review that the GOP needs to do a better job reaching blacks and Hispanics, populations that are growing, instead of only focusing on the ‘traditional’ population of the state and nation, which is not growing.Tillis has made other insensitive comments in the past. In 2011, in Asheville, he said lawmakers must find a way to ‘divide and conquer the people who are on (public) assistance.’

This year, the day after he won the GOP primary, he told MSNBC that people in the mountains of North Carolina don’t deserve the same minimum wage as people in Boston.”


“Democrats are seizing on a comment made by Sen. Kay Hagan’s Republican challenger Thom Tillis, who characterized the white voting bloc in North Carolina as the state’s ‘traditional population.’…Democrats argue that Tillis’s latest comments are just another example of his ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. In public comments more than two years ago, Tillis said ‘what we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance.’”

NBC News: 

“It appears North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis stepped into it talking about demographics and black and Latino voters in the state back in 2012……Tillis then said that unlike the Hispanic or black populations, which have been growing, the ‘traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.’

Tillis’ campaign responded to TPM: ‘Traditional’ North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations. A lot of the state’s recent population growth is from people who move from other states to live, work, and settle down in North Carolina.’”

National Memo:

“The North Carolina election suddenly isn’t looking so good for state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. He’s trailing incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) by 5 points, according to PPP’s latest poll, released on Tuesday. This represents Hagan’s largest lead in any public poll since September (though most other surveys show the race as a virtual tie).Tillis also managed to possibly alienate minority voters in his state, when Talking Points Memo uncovered a 2012 interview with Carolina Business Review host Chris William, in which Tillis said that the African-American and Hispanic population of North Carolina were not the ‘traditional population of North Carolina.’”

Camel City Dispatch:

“It has been a rough few days for the Thom Tillis machine. Tillis pushed through a NC House budget that seeks to double the amount of money the state lottery can spend on advertising, in order to convince North Carolinians to gamble more… To add to the bad press, Tuesday saw an op-research dump that resulted in a clip from 2012 surfacing in which Speaker Tillis bemoaned that the ‘traditional’ population in North Carolina was not growing, unlike African-American and Hispanic populations.… If by ‘traditional population’ Tillis did not mean Native Americans from Manteo to the Smokies then one must assume he means white people.”


“You may recall a while back that we were being told that, in the Republican Senate primary in the newly insane state of North Carolina, the victory of North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis over a guy named Greg Brannon was a victory for the Republican Establishment over those obstreperous Tea Party people, and it is true that Brannon was some real piece of work. However, since winning the primary, Tillis himself has been shown to be a most accommodating host there aboard the crazy train…As we have said before, the dog whistles have been abandoned long ago for the air-raid sirens. And, of course, in reaction comes the inevitable burst of weaselspeak from the Tillis campaign…

Not even trying very hard, are we? Tillis clearly cited both Hispanic and African Americans as a comparison to what he believes are “traditional” North Carolinians. And, we hasten to point out that many African American families have been in North Carolina long enough to be considered ‘traditional,’ although how those families happened to arrive in the state differs a bit from the way the families like that of Thom Tillis happened to get there.”

Talking Points Memo:

“State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, said that the “traditional” voting bloc of his home state wasn’t growing like as minority populations in an interview he did in 2012…‘If you take a look, you mentioned the Hispanic population — the African American population, there’s a number of things that our party stands for that they embrace,’ Tillis said. He went on to say that Republican need to do a better job reaching out to minority voters. Tillis then said that unlike the Hispanic or black populations, which have been growing, the ‘traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.’”


“It sounded an awful lot like Tillis sees the ‘traditional population’ is the white population…The next question, of course, is whether remarks like these also alienate a broader voting base.  In 2006, for example, then-Sen. George Allen’s (R-Va.) ‘macaca’ comments were offensive not just to minority voters, but also to anyone concerned with racism. It’s not hard to imagine Tillis running into a similar problem, alienating anyone uncomfortable with the notion of white people being some kind of ‘traditional’ default.”

Huffington Post: 

“A Republican nominee in a high-profile race that could determine the balance of power in the Senate differentiated between what he called ‘traditional’ voting populations and African-American and Hispanic ones in an interview two years ago…When Tillis was asked what he thought of Hispanics not supporting his party, he said demographic changes were an issue Republicans would have to grapple with…He then explained that unlike Hispanic or black populations, which have been growing, the ‘traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.’”


“Part of [Thom Tillis’] strategy has long been to play-down his more divisive past statements and positions and to portray himself as a rather mild-mannered, centrist Republican. But a newly resurfaced interview from 2012, in which Tillis implicitly describes whites as being America’s ‘traditional’ population may make that more difficult.”

Right Wing Watch:

“Tills made the remarks while discussing the need for the Republican Party to reach out to and appeal to non-white voters — but the phrase ‘traditional population’ as a euphemism for white Americans was lifted right from the racist, anti-immigrant fringe.The Social Contract, the journal founded by anti-immigrant movement godfather John Tanton frequently uses the phrase ‘traditional Americans’ to mean non-immigrants, and specifically white non-immigrants. One example, from an essay by Brenda Walker in the Fall 2012 issue: ‘The idea of diversity has been used like a club, to force obedience to the utopian multicultural state, as traditional Americans are assailed by affirmative action and benefits for illegal aliens, which are not available to citizens.’”