LePage pens love letter to President Trump

Gov. Paul LePage may, in fact, run against Sen. Angus King in 2018. I doubt it. But let’s call it a big maybe.

That said, his latest outbursts – against King, against Sen. Susan Collins – aren’t about that race.

They’re about kissing up to President Donald Trump.

LePage “wrote” an OpEd for the Wall Street Journal last week attacking Collins and King for their principled votes to protect health care for as many as 32 million Americans – and more than 117,000 Mainers.

King and Collins, along with 1st Congressional District Rep. Chellie Pingree, did the right thing. For Collins, particularly, it was a tough vote and took real political courage to buck her party and its president to protect health care for millions.

In the OpEd, LePage called the two “out of touch” and “dangerous.”

Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage at a March 2016 campaign rally in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

I don’t for a second believe that he wrote the column himself. I also don’t believe that he understands the details of the now repealed PL 90 he references, which caused massive rate hikes in Maine, particularly in rural areas.

And he clearly doesn’t understand the benefits of expanding Medicaid in Maine. It’s estimated that in addition to providing health insurance to 70,000 people, expanding Medicaid would bring more than $500 million in new federal funds to the state every year and create more than 3,000 new jobs.

In my experience, Collins and King both have a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of health policy than LePage. He’s all sound bites and fury.

But here’s the thing: LePage’s path to the US Senate doesn’t run through New York and the Wall Street Journal, and it sure as hell isn’t helped along the way with attacks on Collins.

King is an independent who caucuses with Democrats; Collins is a Republican, the “same” party as LePage. Both King and Collins are enormously popular across the political spectrum.

According to a Morning Consult poll from July, both Collins and King have the support of more than 60 percent of Maine voters, while the highest I’ve ever seen LePage at is 48 percent.

Other polls have the two senators from Maine in the high 60s. Meanwhile, LePage is often in the low 40s or high 30s. As recently as May 2016, LePage was the fifth most unpopular governor in the country, with support from just 38 percent of voters in Maine.

You can’t make those numbers stronger by attacking the most popular politicians in the state.

LePage’s Wall Street Journal OpEd and his other attacks on Collins have an audience of exactly one person – President Trump.

The governor plays a tough guy on TV and in front of his supporters, but he appears to me to be working overtime trying to ingratiate himself to the president.

The Wall Street Journal has a national audience and is sure to be seen by the president. The president’s own staff has learned that if you want to reach him, sometimes you have to work through the media.

Maybe LePage would like to be an ambassador or pick up some other appointment in the president’s administration after his term ends as governor (or before).

As he’s said himself, he’s looking to get out of Maine. And Lord knows he’d fit right in as part of Trump’s swamp. It’s easy to imagine LePage making the rounds on TV, telling lie after lie in the service of the president. He’s had almost two full terms of practice making stuff up in Maine.

My unsolicited advice: If you hear the governor make a claim – in person, in a press release or on the radio – check it out for yourself. It’s likely to be untrue, only half true or change by the time you can look it up.

As a loudmouthed Democrat, the idea of a Republican civil war in Maine is enough to warm my heart.

But, it’s about time reasonable, thoughtful Republicans toss to the curb the likes of LePage, a man who has done more to tarnish the Grand Old Party’s image than anyone other than Trump himself.

By attacking Collins – a stalwart fundraiser and supporter of Republicans up and down the ticket, including even the extreme LePage – the governor shows that he’s willing to tear his own coalition apart in service of the president.

The only good that will come of that for Mainers – thankful to hold onto to their health care after a real scare – will be if LePage gets that job in DC and gives a new crop a leaders a chance to repair the damage he’s done to the state.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.