How not to lobby Susan Collins

If you want to influence Susan Collins on a key vote, the last person you’d enlist to help is Gov. Paul LePage.

But that’s exactly what the Trump administration did when they flew Maine’s governor to Washington for a press conference on Friday.

White House photo

Looking like a nervous kid waiting in the principal’s office after spray painting curse words on the bathroom wall, LePage sat next to Vice President Mike Pence in a White House press availability designed to pressure Collins into supporting the latest GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare, the Graham-Cassidy bill. LePage was there as a prop, a Trump suck-up, looking for a job, willing to do whatever the administration asks.

Pence, doing his platitudinous best, calmly laid out his case in support of Graham-Cassidy, and called on Collins to support the bill. He repeatedly touched LePage’s nervous arm throughout the nine-minute event, as if to reassure the bumbling governor that his glaring lack of familiarity with health care policy and his problem telling the truth wouldn’t be an issue here.

To Maine observers, the press event was a laughable concept. On social media and in text messages behind the scenes, political insiders kept asking the same question — do the Trump people really think this will work?

LePage hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself to Collins lately. His efforts to undermine her support among Republicans was made public when a tape from a GOP fundraiser revealed him lobbying against her potential run for governor.

In more practical terms, Collins is the most popular political figure in Maine. By a long shot. She has done something very few politicians in America have been able to do — she’s widely supported by Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Maine people trust her, respect her, and like her. She consistently ranks among the most popular senators in America.

LePage, on the other hand, is one of the least-popular political figures in Maine. He has never received the support of even half of his constituents, and ranks among the least-liked governors in America. Politico branded him “America’s craziest governor,” and his angry, racist tirades have cemented his place as one of the most loathed figures in politics.

The last time both Collins and LePage were up for reelection (2014), Collins received 118,000 more votes than LePage — on the same ballot.

For some reason, the Trump administration looked at these facts, and thought it would be helpful to bring Maine’s most embarrassing figure to D.C. to publicly pressure Collins — a sign of either terrible desperation or abject cluelessness.

In either case, the theater of the event was good for a solid belly laugh from more rational observers.

Lepage’s physical appearance was striking — a shrinking, nervous version of the arrogant blowhard Mainers have come to know, darting his eyes, wringing his hands, slouching in the big chair of the national spotlight. His words were even more entertaining — interjecting random factoids apropos of nothing, at one point even touting the amazing progress Maine has made with nursing homes and elder care — under Obamacare.

LePage concluded the event with a claim that he paid off previous Medicaid debt by de-privatizing the liquor industry, warning that the only option now for Mainers would be to “double up on your drinking.”

LePage then turned to Pence and offered a silly grin. Pence didn’t share the smile, and merely turned away from him with a pained look on his face.

Thinking they had made a brilliant maneuver to pressure Collins, the Trump and LePage teams likely finished the press availability with high hopes. LePage’s puppets in the Maine Republican Party had already put out an email blast calling on Republicans to flood Collins’ phone lines with support for Graham-Cassidy, and now their Dear Leader LePage had made a White House appearance to try to force her hand.

“Ha ha!,” they likely thought. “Now we’ve got the pressure on her!”

Things didn’t quite work out that way, though. Just as the Pence-LePage event finished, the Graham-Cassidy bubble burst with the announcement that Arizona Sen. John McCain would be a “No” vote. The GOP bill can only spare a few Republican defectors, and McCain’s position all but ensured another failed Trump administration effort to repeal Obamacare.

Meaning the LePage-Pence puppet show was all for naught. A silly, desperate effort, made more silly by the course of events.

Collins has made it clear that she isn’t a fan of Obamacare, but she’s not going to support repeal measures that would do more harm than good. Obamacare’s future may be unclear, but one thing’s for certain: LePage has zero political leverage over Collins, and will not impact her approach to this issue.

Collins herself put it more gently on Friday. Responding to reporters’ questions about LePage’s publicity stunt, Maine’s senior senator delicately put our bumbling governor in his proper context by saying that she welcomes “input from all my constituents.”

An appropriate rebuke, delivered with Collins-esque precision.

As Politico’s Burgess Everett tweeted, “Ice. Cold.”


Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.