Don't Think a Foul-Mouthed Tea Party Republican Can Win an Election? Just Look at Maine
If you want to know what a Donald Trump presidency might be like, take a look at Maine. The state, known for its mild moderates (like Senator Susan Collins and former Senator Olympia Snowe), has acquired a new reputation for Tea Party impetuousness thanks to Republican Governor Paul LePage. Like Trump, when it comes to offensive and bellicose remarks, LePage is a gold mine. After he came under criticism from the NAACP for not attending their 2011 Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Portland and Bangor, LePage replied by telling them “to kiss my butt.” He reportedly remarked that state legislators from the city of Lewiston, all Democrats, ought to be “rounded up and executed in the public square.” And recently, during a question-and-answer with high school students in Waterville, the governor told the teenage son of a prominent political cartoonist that he would “like to shoot” his father.
He wasn’t kidding. In July, LePage declared his intention to veto most, if not all, of the 71 bills passed by the state’s legislature. He had ten days to do so. He didn’t. Now he’s going to court, arguing that the legislature’s decision to take a temporary recess means he had more time to veto the bills than the legislature claims, and that as a result, 65 are not yet law. Most observers, including many state Republicans (like Senate President Michael Thibodeau), beg to differ. It’s hardly the first time Republicans have turned their back on the governor. The state passed its budget over LePage’s veto, and a bipartisan committee is investigating allegations that he threatened to withhold state funding from a charter school organization unless it fired its incoming Democratic president.
This intraparty fighting brings to mind not only Trump, but the many other Republicans whose reckless disregard for the legislative process has turned them into pariahs within their own party. Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for example, earned quite the scolding from his fellow conservatives for orchestrating a government shutdown in his futile attempt to defund Obamacare and for using a procedural tactic to try to again force a government shutdown over the president's executive orders on immigration.
As Trump has surged to first place in the polls with his own cocktail of disparaging remarks, pundits and analysts have rushed to remind us that Trump and most of the other far-right firebrands (Scott Walker excepted) stand little to no chance of winning the nomination, let alone a general election. And to be clear, I do not think that Trump, Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum will make it to the nominating convention. Yet the fact that LePage, a man who once told reporters that a Democratic state senator wants “to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” was elected and then reelected chief executive in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican president since 1988, should at least give us pause before we dismiss them as mere entertainment. Donald Trump’s campaign may be Jon Stewart’s dream, but the success of his and similar rhetoric across the nation proves that ill mannered and foul-mouthed populists have significant electoral appeal.
Thankfully, that doesn’t translate into governing capability. If LePage’s experience is any indication, should we elect a president without a filter or a hinge, they may quickly find themselves isolated and debased—even by their allies.