Target Rich Environment: Quo vadis Olympia?
It was widely reported that Maine’s senior senator was seriously upset when a” tea party candidate” defeated Rep. Mike Castle in the 2010 Delaware Republican primary. CNN reported that “The longer Snowe talked about the state of the GOP and the Tea Party movement, the more riled up she got.”
Her distress was shared, in part, by many of her less “moderate” colleagues. They all calculated that their hopes of attaining the majority and the chairmanships and staff appointments that go with it depended on the Delaware senate seat, and Castle looked like a sure thing in the general election. Chairmanships are good things to have in themselves and draw special interest donations as a magnet draws iron filings.
Worse, far worse, many saw the upset as a portent that Olympia would face a difficult road to re-election in 2012. Paul LePage’s victory with enthusiastic tea party support seemed to deepen the perils, not to mention the TP take over of the New Hampshire state party..
The National Journal reported that the Democrats were making “a new effort to chart a path for Sen Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to switch parties.” There was much speculation that Castle’s loss meant that there was no longer a place for moderates in the GOP. Some people suggested she might end up running as an Independent. . Public Policy Polling surveyed Maine’s Republicans and determined that they favored an unnamed conservative challenger over Snowe by a 63-29 margin. Its director concluded that “...it’s virtually impossible anymore to be a moderate in the Republican Party and survive politically.”
Now pay attention.
Olympia Snowe is not going to switch parties and she is not going to run as an Independent. Dismiss all speculation to the contrary as mere “crackling of thorns under a pot” (Ecclesiastes, 7:6).
On Friday (Feb.11), lured by the promise of cookies and clarification, I attended a meeting in Auburn summoned by the senator. The significance of this is that my kamikaze congressional campaign in 2008 was unequivocally conservative and, in fact, anticipated many of the complaints articulated by the Tea Partyers. Back then Sen. Snowe did her duty to the party by contributing a couple of thousand to my campaign and routinely praised my candidacy before GOP audiences. But in 2010 she never acknowledged my existence even when I stood a couple of feet from her. On Friday she greeted me cordially by name.
The roster of those invited included two organizers of the Franklin County Patriots, a fundamentalist clergyman and a 2010 candidate who forthrightly describes himself as a conservative first, Republican second. Give the woman credit for boldly mingling with the “hostiles.” Most politicians glide away from potentially confrontational gatherings.
Senator Snowe, although she denies paying attention to the 2012 election, has been energetically working to shore up her right flank and burnishing up her Republican credentials sixteen months before the primary election. She gave valuable help to the LePage campaign and the state party. She rejoices in the party’s success and generously praises Charlie Webster’s achievements.
Although the senator speaks fluent Bipartisanian to the national press and is more popular among Maine’s Democrats than among the state’s Republicans, she has always known how to speak fluent Republican before Republican audiences.
She ably defended some of her controversial votes, deftly explaining the intricacies of senatorial procedure. Hard pressed to justify the TSA absurdities, she acknowledged problems but defended the program on national security grounds. She agreed with Judge Vinson’s ruling that Obamacare was unconstitutional, but when asked if she had read the text of his decision she seemed a mite evasive. You see, professors and politicians both routinely affect greater knowledge of subjects brought to their attention than they actually have; professors from vanity and politicians from necessity. After forty-five years of exposure to professors I’ve come to recognize the signs, and I thought I detected them in her reply.
I attended the meeting primarily because I was curious about the senator’s understanding of the Tea Party phenomenon, but she put my question aside and the discussion wandered off into congressional gossip, with which the senator was clearly more comfortable.
I had finished the cookies in front of me (leaving one on the plate as good manners requires) and having no interest in such chatter, I left the meeting and drove back to Farmington none the wiser about her assessment of the Tea Party phenomenon, or of her ideas about the constitutional limits on federal power. Sure, she said she was all in favor of the Constitution, but so say they all.
Checking later, I determined that the subject remained unexplored. Those conservatives I spoke with found her personality agreeable but her principles unclear. It’s odd that she neglected the opportunity to explore the views of the authentic Tea Party activists sitting before her in three dimensions. I suppose she believes that polling data tells her all she needs to know about them.
All the same, she seems intent on softening the hostility of the Tea Party insurrectionists. She, alone among Maine’s congressmammals has responded to ten questions submitted by The Maine Tea Party/Maine Refounders people and her answers are cleverly written. This is her response to “Will you faithfully support Maine's new GOP Platform?”
“I have always had the view that the platform is really the domain of the delegates at the state convention. There have always been differences of opinion on every platform throughout the years, where not everyone agrees on every plank. What is paramount is that we all stand united behind the basic, traditional Republican principles that have always been the bedrock of the Republican Party – individual liberties, personal responsibility, smaller government, lower taxes, a strong national defense, and fiscal responsibility -- which is why I have been a lifelong Republican. I agree with the words of President Reagan when he said, “We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus tests’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty…As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.”
This may not serve to conciliate the conservatives, but there’s nothing there to enrage them either. It’s worth noting that the platform question is the only one of the ten submitted that even impinges on the social issues.