Whether North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis wins the Senate GOP primary tonight, or finds himself stuck in a run-off until July, he'll be contending with this recently resurfaced video from 2011, in which he fuses all of the ugliest elements of conservative politics into one mustache-twiddling, Bond-villainesque soliloquy laying bare the GOP's "divide and conquer" strategy to undermine the social safety net.
What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say, 'at some point you're on your own! We may end up taking care of those babies, but we're not taking care of you.' And we've got to start having that serious discussion. It won't happen next year. Wrong time. Because it's going to be politically charged. One of the reasons why I may never run for another elected office is cause some of these things may just get me railroaded out of town. But in 2013 I honestly believe that we have to do it.
Class warfare? Check. Racist dog whistle? Check. A belabored explication of the political utility of racist dog whistling? Check. An acknowledgment that this strategy must be deployed at strategic moments, because it can backfire? Check. A further acknowledgment that admitting to the strategy can be career ending? Check.
This was in 2011, before Mitt Romney's made his 47 percent remarks. But as Ed Kilgore (who deserves a big hat tip) notes, his comments makes those remarks look relatively harmless.
They also draw other Republicans' efforts to welfarize Obamacare into a new light, and help explain the political foundations of Tillis' decision not to expand Medicaid in North Carolina—a decision about which he continues to boast—and the North Carolina GOP's broader agenda. Tillis isn't wearing racial blinders. He's very clear-eyed about what he's doing. His statement is an implicit admission that the road to building majority support for a conservative policy agenda runs through the exploitation of white racial resentment. Making a case out of "these people" who have many "babies" to foster and deepen their own dependence on government.
When these remarks were first unearthed back in 2011, Tillis told the Charlotte Observer that "divide and conquer" was a "poor choice of words" but stood by his other remarks, including the suggestion that North Carolina consider drug-testing people on public assistance.
Now that he's a U.S. Senate candidate, there's a decent chance that Republicans outside of North Carolina will have to take a position on his comments. Perhaps they'll condemn them. But there's next to no chance that they or other conservatives will admit that this kind of thinking is represents anything other than an aberration. That would require them to cast aside the blinders. The problem is, his remarks were reported on at the time. And the national party still backed him.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.