Gov. Paul LePage did something completely out of character and perhaps even courageous.
It didn’t last. Less than a week later, he completely reversed course, showing his stripes as a political opportunist instead of the truth-teller his supporters long for.
According to the New York Times, at a Feb. 20 meeting of Republican governors in Washington, D.C., LePage “called for action” and urged the governors to write an open letter disavowing presidential candidate Donald Trump for his “divisive brand of politics.”
For those of us in Maine who have lived through the last five years of LePage, the notion that he would call on others to disavow divisive politics is hard to imagine. LePage has built his brand on division, insulting his political friends and foes alike, making racist comments and attacking people from away and asylum seekers.
But there it was — with Super Tuesday looming and Trump’s status as frontrunner for the Republican nomination growing — Paul LePage had a chance for a Margaret Chase Smith moment.
It was short-lived and futile. The governors didn’t take up the idea. Instead of “A Declaration of Conscience,” LePage, a flawed messenger for unity if ever there was one, did a mighty flip-flop.
LePage reverted to form and endorsed Trump for president, following his mentor and protector from New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie.
So much for the power of conviction.
“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we’re one of the same cloth,” LePage bragged during his endorsement.
On this we, agree.
The Huffington Post, a left-leaning news website, has taken to adding this editor’s note to stories it posts about Trump: “Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
The Maine media would be justified in posting a similar note about our governor.
Christie and LePage helped to give Trump the cover he needed heading into Super Tuesday, where 11 states were up for grabs.
Trump won big, carrying seven states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.
He beat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on his home turf in much of the south, minus Texas and Oklahoma, slipped by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Vermont and edged out Sen. Marco Rubio in Virginia, the home of the GOP establishment in the D.C. suburbs.
Trump heads into Saturday with a lot of momentum, and among Republican caucus-goers — the most conservative voters in Maine — LePage’s endorsement is helpful. I expect LePage will have a good day in Maine.
Christie, appearing alongside Trump during his victory speech and press conference on Tuesday night, wore the face of a man defeated. He stood in Trump’s shadow literally and figuratively.
While Christie has kept himself on the big stage with his Trump endorsement, there’s no doubt his credibility has taken a hit, especially at home.
In an unprecedented move, six New Jersey newspapers published a joint editorial Tuesday calling on him to resign.
“We’re fed up with Gov. Chris Christie’s arrogance. We’re fed up with his opportunism. We’re fed up with his hypocrisy,” the newspapers wrote. “For the good of the state, it’s time for Christie to do his long-neglected constituents a favor and resign as governor.”
It’s a harsh rebuke and reminiscent of a major paper in Maine calling for LePage’s impeachment and telling him to do his job or resign. But like hounds baying at the moon, the moon isn’t going to answer (Hey, just in case, Gov. LePage, I think you should resign, too.)
The Party of Lincoln faces a crisis of its own making as the dog-whistle politics of the past manifest themselves in a demagogue like Trump. His opponents are divided, and there’s no clear consensus alternative. The path to the nomination has never looked as clear.
A number of my Republican friends shake their heads at the prospect of a Trump nomination and see it as handing the presidency to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
Surely, America would reject the deeply flawed Trump, they say. But experience in Maine – a moderate state in New England, which has elected twice “America’s Craziest Governor” – makes me worry.