Susan Collins and the party of Trump

In not saying whether she would endorse President Donald Trump in 2020, Sen. Susan Collins shared what she decided about her election plans.

Asked on PBS Newshour about a Trump endorsement, Collins said, “I’m really focused on my own campaign for 2020, and I really haven’t focused on the presidential campaign. So I’m not prepared at this point to make that decision.”

Sen. Susan Collins speaks to reporters as she arrives at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Collins’ decision to run again wasn’t particularly surprising.

But, when measured against Collins’ 2016 reasoning for not endorsing Trump, the possibility Collins might endorse Trump is inconsistent and illogical.

In a 2016 missive in the Washington Post, Collins wrote that Trump didn’t show “the inclusive approach to governing that is critical to healing the divisions in our country.”

Can anyone say with a straight face that Trump has tried to heal divisions? He mocks people he disagrees with, calls names, and said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to a wall showed she “doesn’t mind human trafficking.”

Back in 2016 Collins said “Mr. Trump lacks the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.” Collins was right. Trump spends large portions of his days in “executive time,” watching television and tweeting. Intelligence officials trying to brief him “describe futile attempts to keep his attention by using visual aids, confining some briefing points to two or three sentences, and repeating his name and title as frequently as possible.”

In 2016 Collins was concerned about Trump’s approach to foreign policy, noting, “It is reckless for a presidential candidate to publicly raise doubts about honoring treaty commitments with our allies.” Trump has undermined our country’s relations with allies and questioned alliances through his presidency, so how can there be any way for Collins to back him in 2020?

Collins will one day explain her 2020 endorsement decision and reasoning for herself.

One has to wonder if her reticence to stick with her 2016 non-endorsements relates to what’s happened to the Republican party.

While in 2016, Collins stated, “Donald Trump does not reflect historical Republican values,” now the Republican party is the party of Trump.

In Maine, the returning Republican Party chair, Demi Kouzounas, said the party had been “too nice” and said party staff should tweet every day, enthusiastically contending “Every day, President Trump is telling us how to win!”

According to the New York Times, a top Trump political aide “dispatched some of his staff members [in January 2019] to see that their preferred candidate remained in charge of the Maine Republican Party.”

Partisanship is now deeply linked to views toward Trump and his agenda.

GOP Trump critics did poorly in 2018 primaries and, although Trump’s approval ratings languish, they’re strong among Republicans.

In past Senate elections, Collins drew support from many quarters. Voting for Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the US Supreme Court hurt Collins with Democrats and unenrolled voters, while leading to a big increase in approval from Republicans. She also backed the very unpopular Trump tax bill.

After her vote to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, Collins broke her own record for money raised in one quarter, bringing in $1.8 million.

Of the nearly $900,000 raised in donations over $200, only $19,000 came from people in Maine.

Bringing in so much money from away was no accident.

Amy Abbott, the deputy treasurer for Collins’ campaign stated, “We focused our fundraising efforts nationally, which we typically do until the election year, which is why there were relatively fewer donations from Maine.” She said the campaign has received many small contributions from Mainers.

As Collins’ fundraising was given impetus by her vote for Kavanaugh, so was her eventual opponent’s. A crowdfunding effort begun during the Kavanaugh fight has raised nearly $3.8 million so far for a so-far unnamed challenger. Collins has denigrated that grassroots effort, calling it the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me.”

In 2016 Collins saw and forthrightly described Trump’s personal and policy failings and in 2017 broke with Trump on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Now she is more dependent on the Trump base and equivocates on whether he deserves reelection as loyalty to Trump increasingly defines today’s Republican party.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.