At a closed-door meeting last year at the North Carolina General Assembly building, Thom Tillis, the state speaker of the house and frontrunner in the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in November, clashed with Republican activists and legislators who claimed that Tillis was blocking conservative legislation to bolster his chances in the Senate race. In a contentious exchange that was caught on tape, Tillis and a fellow Republican tried to put their disagreements behind them before stumbling into an argument over whether Tillis was wearing “big boy pants”:
Unidentified speaker: Sometimes in the heat of the moments things are said that maybe could be better stated had we had time to think about what we’re gonna say. But sir, I think it’s time now for us to put this behind us, put our big boy pants on and say okay we—
Tillis: I understand that, I understand that, but I have big boy pants on every day, with all due respect. That’s why I’m sitting in this room trying to solve this problem. That was fine up to this point, I think that kind of comment’s not really showing respect.
This is funny, because who says “big boy pants”? (Besides Florida Dem Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who used the term to diss Mitt Romney.) But the context is significant. At one point, according Chuck Suter, a North Carolina conservative activist who was in the meeting and posted the clip, Tillis slammed his chair into the table and began to walk out of the room before returning to finish a point. The chair-slam can be heard on the tape.
Tillis, whose campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, held the meeting to clear the air after Republican state Rep. Larry Pittman, who was also in attendance, criticized Tillis in a speech. The question of whether Tillis is conservative enough hasn’t gone away. Heavyweights including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Americans for Prosperity have endorsed one of Tillis’ rivals, Greg Brannon, an OBGYN who runs a chain of crisis-pregnancy clinics. The most recent survey of the primary from Public Policy Polling showed Tillis well short of the 40-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.