On health care, LePage is out of his league

In 1969, a University of Southern California professor named Laurence Peter authored the concept, commonly referred to as “The Peter Principle,” that describes the experience of many promising, upwardly-mobile workers who end up promoted beyond their abilities — promoted to the level of their own incompetence. As we watch our governor, Paul LePage, inject himself into the national healthcare debate, we can see the Peter Principle in full effect.

LePage flew to Washington last month to take part in a publicity stunt aimed at pressuring Sen. Susan Collins into supporting the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill. His nervous, slouching performance in the national spotlight was hard to watch, rekindling that “I can’t believe this guy is governor” feeling many of us have had for years. LePage’s health care ploy failed miserably; Collins soon after announced she would not support the bill. Once it was clear Collins was a “no” vote, Senate Republicans cancelled the vote on the bill altogether.

Gov. Paul LePage met with Vice President Mike Pence to try to persuade Sen. Susan Collins to vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill. White House photo

It wasn’t just LePage’s laughable misread of his own political leverage that was noteworthy. The real underpinning of his public bumbling on this issue is the fact that he knows next to nothing about health care policy. He’s being used as a pawn by national conservative healthcare actors, thrust in front of cameras to carry water and pretend to know what he’s talking about. And, as his D.C. publicity stunt showed, it’s not working.

LePage has survived politics largely by the force of his own will. He puffs out his chest and declares things as fact, and his base supporters believe it to be true, regardless of how absurd or contrary to their previous ideologies the statements may be. He’s trying the same thing with health care right now, but the facts are simply too overwhelming for him to succeed.

After Graham-Cassidy failed, LePage took to the bully pulpit to disparage Collins, making false accusations and literally calling Maine’s senior senator a liar. LePage used his conservative echo chamber of talk radio, friendly blogs, and even his weekly address to lash out at the senator, but failed to offer much of anything to explain his own support for a bill that would have been an unquestionable disaster for Maine.

Independent analysis showed Graham-Cassidy would have cost Maine $1 billion over the next decade. And premiums would have skyrocketed— a 60-year old in Maine making $25,000 a year would have seen a $10,000 increase in premiums in 2020, for example. The list of negative implications goes on and on.

More than 300 organizations — from Maine hospitals to Anthem — opposed Graham-Cassidy. Even Standard & Poor’s, whose bond ratings LePage has often used as the basis of his fiscal policy initiatives, panned the bill as an economic disaster. S&P issued a report predicting Graham-Cassidy would cost 580,000 jobs and more than $240 billion in lost economic activity over ten years.

The Maine Republican Party on Friday distributed an overview from Collins’ office explaining her opposition to the bill. Collins’ analysis included a thoroughly-documented review of how Graham-Cassidy would affect Maine, with links to independent studies and a clear explanation of her vote.

LePage responded by email within hours. His response, sent from his iPhone to conservative activists, was less than convincing.

“Her facts are absolutely untrue. We have the details to prove it.”

LePage, however, did not provide any of these “details.” There were no links, no data, no actual contradictions to anything Collins had said. Instead, he offered to “debate the details of Graham-Cassidy anytime — anyplace.”

LePage has been debating health care policy with himself for months now. When the House put forward an Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year, LePage opposed it vehemently, and even sent  a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan to complain. Later, LePage ended up supporting the same bill. He then came out against a Senate repeal bill, only to attack Sens. Collins and Angus King for voting against it.

LePage’s lack of detail to support his position on Graham-Cassidy is not surprising — he simply has none. He’s built a career on making things up to support whatever his random emotional urges are (hates Obama, loves Trump), but in the realm of health policy, in the national spotlight, this doesn’t fly.

Our healthcare system is far too complex and far too important to be governed by half-baked, knee-jerk notions. LePage may be able to bully and lie his way through the Maine political arena, but his reach into the national health care dialog is a bridge too far for someone with such a limited grasp of the facts.

As last month’s press event in D.C. showed, LePage as a spokesperson for health care reform is a man promoted to the point of his own incompetence. The Trump administration may have looked beyond his inarticulate and disagreeable public persona because he shares a state with Collins, but his failure to influence her vote on Graham-Cassidy makes it clear that LePage simply has no place on this stage.


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.