In 2010, Republicans hadn’t controlled the Maine Legislature since 1974. They had been out of the Blaine House for 16 years since Gov. Angus King replaced Gov. John McKernan. Peter Cianchette came close to defeating John Baldacci in 2002, and the sense was that the gubernatorial election was the Republican nominee’s to lose.
Paul LePage was a combative, blunt-talking businessman, who worked for Marden’s and was mayor of Democratic Waterville. He had a pulled-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps life story. He won a fractious, seven-way race to be the Republican nominee for governor with 37.4 percent of Republicans at the right end of the political spectrum within the party.
LePage went on to win a five-way general election with 37.6 percent of the more than 580,000 votes cast, a margin of 1.7 percent over his nearest rival. He entered office with governing majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Since then, he has consistently tried, with varying degrees of success, to advance his agenda of lowering taxes, regulation, energy costs, and social spending.
From the moment that he took office, and for the following four years, LePage was relentlessly attacked by Democrats and the media. There was little precedent for the level of antagonism shown him. To the contrary, Maine had a history of political decorum.
Those attacks began with opposition to his nominees to head state agencies like the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. They continued with opposition to his decision to take down from the walls of the Department of Labor a dour mural celebrating the labor movement that he felt sent an anti-business message, to his efforts to rein in social spending and improve public education. They included impugning the legitimacy of his election by a plurality, coupled with calls for ranked-choice voting for governor.
Republicans lost control of the Legislature in the 2012 midterm election. Most of the polls leading up to the 2014 gubernatorial election predicted someone other than LePage would win. Instead, in a three-way race, he won re-election by a greater margin than he won the first time, 4.8 percent, with more than 294,000 votes, or 48.2 percent of all votes cast.
He did so in no small part because he did not back down. However poorly articulated, people believed that his policies had merit. Meanwhile, Democrats and the media overplayed their criticism to the point that it backfired.
In 2016, after eight years of a Democratic White House, the sense was that the presidential election was the Republican nominee’s to lose. Donald Trump won a 17-way race for the Republican nomination for president. He won the four-way (five-way, if you count Evan McMullin) general election with 304 votes in the Electoral College. A big reason for his victory was his combative style and refusal to allow any slight to go unanswered. It distinguished him from other Republicans, who didn’t defend themselves as aggressively. It also made for some ugly campaigning.
Trump has been president of the United States for a month. Every day seems to bring an alarmist headline. Democrats have challenged the legitimacy of his election. They have criticized almost all of his nominees as grossly unfit for their position. They have been dragging their heels with respect to confirmations. They have condemned as wrong-headed, illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral, Trump’s efforts to make good on campaign promises on jobs, trade, international relations, immigration and the economy.
Already, The New York Times has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor, The New Yorker magazine has outlined the process by which a president can be removed from office for incapacity, and several pundits have predicted he will be impeached as soon as Democrats regain control of Congress in the midterm. Government apparatchiks are resisting from within. Liberals are regularly taking to the streets to protest that Trump is not their president.
I understand the idea that turnabout is fair play. But President Trump is appointing some able people, and Republicans control congress. If they succeed in achieving even a few of his goals, if the opposition can’t restrain itself from overreacting – and if Maine is an indicator – Trump will win re-election.
Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.