A year ago, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins committed political suicide live in front of the nation.
It’s safe to say that wasn’t her intention. But hers was the last, and deciding, swing vote in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and that’s what everyone remembers. Most of the Senate made their decisions early, whether along party lines or for other causes — not the least of which being to avoid the limelight; there’s no way to win votes on something like this. (Heck, even I recused myself.) But Collins didn’t rush.
For three days, she was the most watched Senator in the country. Reporters tracked her down at a local festival, where she gave a nationally televised “No comment”. On October 4th, her Senate office (empty) was swarmed by a protest. Aides released the statement that, as always, she would vote her conscience. Then, on the 5th, she did.
To be clear: I have read her words on the confirmation, and I am quite confident that Susan Collins indeed voted her conscience. The line between bravery and foolishness is often a fine one, but in this case, she lists too many salient details and well-reasoned arguments for her decision to be anything but deliberate and informed. She’s too experienced, and far too savvy a politician, to have any illusions about the price she will pay in 2020 — and she’s paying it; her approval rating has fallen below her disapproval. For better or worse, that makes this a courageous act of political suicide.
And today the Democrats seem hell-bent on rescuing her.
On the map, Maine is connected to the rest of the U.S. only by New Hampshire, but in society and culture it’s actually insular. The economy has always been poor, dominated by tourism — rich folks “from away” spending the kind of vacation money the natives never will have. Naturally, this galls; over the years it has created resentment toward anyone not born and bred in the state — not virtuous, perhaps, but certainly understandable. One reason the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact keeps getting defeated by the Maine legislature is that it’d mean giving away the power of their votes to “outah staytahs”.
So who does the national DNC choose to oppose Senator Collins but a Rhode Islander, Sara Gideon?
It’s a handicap, sure enough; Gideon has four terms in the state House but otherwise hasn’t much of a following in Maine. She’s personable, well-spoken, and has a name people remember; that puts her ahead a ways. She’s also militantly anti-Trump, and in the present climate that gives her even more of a boost. Combined with the resentment over Kavanaugh, that would be enough to give her a fighting chance.
However, in addition to the crime of not having been born in Maine, Gideon has made two serious blunders already. The less damaging is nevertheless a cardinal sin: the Representative from Freeport, home of L.L. Bean, taped a campaign video wearing a Patagonia jacket while talking about “putting Maine first”. Had she owned the choice she might have passed it off as political due to Linda Bean’s support of Trump in 2016; instead, her campaign photoshopped out the Patagonia logo.
(image credit the Examiner; full story here)
The second error is egregious and far more damaging: While Gideon’s campaign has pledged to avoid donations from PACs and major corporations (yet somehow managed to raise a record $3 million in the third quarter of 2019), dark money groups tied to her have been airing anti-Collins attack ads for months. By far the worst of these, a particularly scurrilous slander rated by the Washington Post at ‘Three Pinnochios’ worth of lies, originated from the group Maine Momentum and led by one Chris Glenn — who left Gideon’s employ as a House aide in order to run the group.
The 2020 Maine Senate campaign has barely begun, and already it’s no longer about the Kavanaugh nomination. That’s impressive even for Democrats, traditionally their own worst enemies. The horrors of the Ed Muskie smear campaign, the Gary Hart scandal, the overt stacking of the 2016 nomination, and even the recent accusations against their own of having Russian ties: infighting defeats the DNC far more frequently than the opposition. The reason behind this, it seems to me, is an all too human self-righteousness combined with an eagerness to engage in foul play and dirty tricks — justifiable, no doubt, because of the moral bankruptcy of their deplorable opposition. It’s human; it’s natural — and it’s overtly hypocritical.
If the Gideon campaign were to make amends for these two errors (she already corrected the geography of her birth as quickly as possible), and do so honestly, she’d still have a shot at the Senate seat. The first thing would be, as I said before, to take ownership of the Patagonia jacket. Further denials are transparent and foolhardy. Directly facing the problem would acknowledge the importance of buying local to state residents, and it would embrace truthfulness — virtues beyond price to Maine folks.
The second is more painful: She would need to publicly condemn the Maine Momentum ad as a falsehood, transparent political propaganda paid for by dark money — and orchestrated by a co-worker and former close personal friend. She would need to distance herself from the mudslinging, to do so thoroughly and irrevocably, and as soon as possible. Otherwise, she’ll carry the stain of all those out-of-state millions — and that dark green just won’t wash off.