Thank goodness for reasonable Republicans.
Tuesday night saw our political environment writ clearly on stages both large and small. Roy Moore, a man accused of what can only be described as heinous actions, lost a Senate seat in Alabama, a state Donald Trump won by 28 points. Meanwhile, back in Maine, Shane Bouchard won the mayoralty of Lewiston, a city unanimously represented by Democrats in Augusta and where “D” voters outnumber “Rs” by 6,000.
What does that tell us?
First, it is that Maine is a center-right state. No doubt others will dispute this, but Saco, Lewiston, and Waterville — all places where registered Democrats outpace members of the GOP — will open 2018 with Republican mayors. Lewiston’s most recent election is Exhibit A; Bernie Sanders weighed in favoring Ben Chin, a leader of Maine’s leading leftmost group, the Maine People’s Alliance. Despite all those advantages, Chin lost. Again. As he did to Mayor Bob Macdonald in 2015.
Second, we should learn that crazy or scummy Republican candidates can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in federal — and particularly Senate — races. Moore’s history is well-known at this point. His numerous failings lost the race more than Sen.-elect Doug Jones won it.
Unfortunately for the GOP, this is a pattern. In 2012, Todd Akin had a strong lead in the Missouri polls over Claire McCaskill for that state’s Senate seat. Then he made moronic comments about “legitimate rape” and fell short at the ballot box.
Or, in 2010, Republicans had a chance to rebuke the Obama administration and elect a right-of-center candidate to fill Vice President Joe Biden’s Delaware Senate seat. On the heels of Scott Brown’s Senate victory in deep blue Massachusetts, a GOP wave seemed ascendant, countering the oncoming progressive tide. Then Christine O’Donnell won the Delaware GOP primary, a flawed candidate who played into the games of her detractors by publicly declaring herself “not a witch.” She lost.
This does not mean milquetoast, mealy-mouth Republicans are the only ones who can win elections. Paul LePage, Chris Christie, and Donald Trump are testaments to that. Whatever you think of them, there can be no dispute that our governor and our president both found measures of success in private industry. Meanwhile, Christie was a highly regarded prosecutor scouring Republicans and Democrats with corruption charges. None can be described as shrinking violets.
Yet it does mean that if Republicans are going to win elections, they need to put forward candidates who have a achieved success in their non-political lives. And they can’t put forward flawed individuals accused of despicable crimes, or make foolish comments about witchcraft or rape.
The GOP finds success when they talk about simple, reasonable issues, and offer candidates with credible resumes to address them. You cannot spend your way into prosperity; tax dollars need to come from somewhere. Our welfare system is nonsensical gobbledygook, not helping the truly needy enough while trapping others in poverty by forcing them off eligibility cliffs and disincentivizing work. And, yes, sometimes hard words — whether called “real talk” or “politically incorrect” — are necessary to shock the system into action.
It can be a challenging line to walk. Rough rhetoric gets confused with competency, for a time. But, in the (likely) words of Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, “you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Eventually the veneer fades away and elections are lost.
So while the margin available is now narrower for Republicans in the U.S. Senate and Susan Collins’ role becomes more amplified, back in Maine we can be thankful for those reasonable Republicans leading numerous cities throughout our state. They’ve overcome demographic and enrollment challenges to serve as examples for the electoral successes of the Grand Old Party going forward.
Now they just have to, in the immortal words of Larry the Cable Guy, git’r’dun, and continue to prove that Republican governance is responsible governance. That’s where the real work begins.