Susan Collins now has the highest disapproval of any US senator -- thanks to Trumpism
In the past, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was among the most popular Republicans in New England — a region of the United States that has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. Collins, first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, was reelected by 17% in 2002, 23% in 2008 and 38% in 2014. But that was before Donald Trump became president, and according to polling by Morning Consult, Collins now enjoys 42% approval and 52% disapproval — making her the most unpopular politician in the U.S. Senate.
During the first quarter of 2017, according to Morning Consult, Collins enjoyed 67% approval in Maine. But the last quarter of 2019 found her overtaking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in terms of unpopularity.
The 67-year-old Collins had a good reputation in the past. She leaned conservative but wasn’t a far-right ideologue, and Collins — not unlike Sen. John McCain in Arizona or Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania — would vote with Senate Democrats when she believed it was appropriate. Collins was pro-choice on the abortion issue and was never a fundamentalist culture warrior.
Trumpism, however, has been incredibly polarizing, putting less extreme Republicans like Collins between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, rapid Trumpistas believe that Collins isn’t pro-Trump enough; on the other hand, many Maine Democrats believe she is too pro-Trump.
Trump supporters were furious with Collins in late 2017, when she voted against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare (McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the other two Senate Republicans who voted against ACA repeal — much to Trump and McConnell’s dismay). But Collins infuriated Democrats when, in 2018, she voted for the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Collins is up for reelection this year, and she is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the Senate (along with Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado). In 2019, the Maine senator was challenged from the far right by Trump supporter Derek Levasseur, but the Maine GOP urged him to end his primary campaign — and in September, he did (although Levasseur didn’t rule out the possibility of running against Collins as an independent). So Collins doesn’t have to worry about not making it to the general election; what she does have to worry about is the Democrat she will be up against — most likely, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon.
Although other Democrats are seeking the senatorial nomination in Maine — including former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse, lobbyist Betsy Sweet and attorney Bre Kidman — Gideon appears to be the frontrunner. By mid-October, Gideon’s campaign had raised $3.2 million, and her supporters are asserting that she is best equipped to defeat Collins in the general election should she receive her party’s nomination.
Gideon has been using Collins’ own words to tar and feather the Maine Republican: “Mr. President, I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.” And if Gideon does receive her party’s nomination, Maine’s Democratic House speaker will no doubt continue to do so.