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North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis cruised to a surprisingly comfortable victory in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, and the media reaction was quick and dramatic.

“GOP establishment 1, Tea Party 0,” CNN declared.

“The Tea Party’s North Carolina wipeout,” Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote.

The results are “sending shivers down the spine of Tea Party leadership,” MSNBC’s Tamron Hall exclaimed on News Nation.

There is some truth in these reactions. National Republicans who waded into the race divided along the usual “civil war” battle lines, with “establishment” heavyweights such as Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads backing Tillis, and Tea Party figures like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and FreedomWorks lining up behind the second-place finisher, right-wing obstetrician Greg Brannon.

But while their favored candidate may have lost on Tuesday, Tea Party leaders should still be feeling pretty good about the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in November. Despite his establishment label, Tillis is poised to represent the right’s interests perfectly if North Carolinians send him to Washington.

Tillis has served in North Carolina’s General Assembly since 2007, and as speaker since 2011. It would be hard to have a more conservative record than he’s compiled in that time. Under Tillis’ leadership, the legislature rewrote the state’s tax code to the benefit of the rich and the detriment of the poor, cut $500 million from public education while shifting money towards school vouchers, slashed unemployment benefits, imposed some of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the nation (by quietly attaching them to an unrelated motorcycle safety bill), passed a set of draconian voting laws that limit access to the ballot (particularly for black voters), and essentially made it illegal to predict that the sea level will rise. And that only scratches the surface of the right’s plans for the state.

Throughout his Senate campaign, Tillis has made no effort to distance himself from the far-right legislature he leads. On the contrary; he’s declared that he’s proud of the state’s “conservative revolution,” and proposed ways to push North Carolina even further to the right. For example, he’s suggested that Congress should eradicate the minimum wage altogether.

Even as Tillis was scoring a victory for the “establishment” on Tuesday, video emerged of him urging his fellow Republicans to “divide and conquer” Americans on public 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,” he says in the tape, which was filmed in 2011. “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 going to take care of you.’”

On Wednesday morning, the newly minted Republican candidate said he regretted the phrasing he used in the video — but he declined to back away from the sentiment.

It’s true that Tillis is not as far to the right as Brannon, the Tea Party’s chosen candidate. But who could be? Brannon, who argued that food stamps are equivalent to slavery, and that interstate toll roads are fascism, was about as extreme as a candidate could get, even in a southern Republican primary. But that doesn’t make Tillis a moderate — something that conservative voters understood going into the polls.

Tea Party groups also understand this; it’s why they wasted no time in lining up behind Tillis after Brannon conceded on Tuesday, and it’s likely why they put barely any money behind Brannon’s campaign to begin with (although a more cynical observer might conclude that they had other reasons for holding on to the cash).

Make no mistake: Although he “defeated” them in the primary, if Tillis does go on to defeat Kay Hagan in November, Tea Party Republicans will end up overjoyed with the Senate’s newest ultraconservative.

Photo: North Carolina National Guard via Flickr

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Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.