Up Loyalty Creek Without A Paddle

So, you may have heard recently that there is a mini-civil war brewing between U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and the Republican nominee to replace her, Charlie Summers.

A disconcerting development for the Republican Party, as any hope that Summers has to overcome King will weigh heavily upon the blessing and support of the incumbent.  Snowe’s aggressive and enthusiastic backing would undoubtedly help raise Summers’ name identification and stature, but would also likely help capture headlines and steal some of the conversation away from Angus King.

Although, if King keeps lying about his record as Governor, maybe the Summers campaign won’t want to steal any headlines.  But I digress.

The point really is, Snowe’s refusal to completely wrap her arms around Summers hurts his chances a great deal.  So, some kind of rapprochement is obviously called for here.  Something beyond the “I lost the check in the mail” explanations we have heard thus far.

But to solve the problem, one must ask, what is the source of the problem?  Why the animosity between two former allies and friends?

The explanation from Snowe has always been rather blunt.  It is a question of loyalty.  Summers failed to publicly endorse her during her aborted primary campaign, and she obviously feels she was owed his support given her role in the development of his career.

Summers, for his part, denies that he intentionally slighted Snowe.  I’ve heard a number of explanations, from not wanting to get too political immediately upon becoming Maine’s Secretary of State, to simply not getting around to it yet.  Neither is likely, or very convincing.

While I think Summers and his campaign are trying to be a little too cute about their explanations for that mistake, I do find Senator Snowe’s reaction to be curiously vindictive. If there is anyone within the Maine Republican Party who shouldn’t be taking absolutist stands based on loyalty, it is Senator Snowe.

I’ve long been a loud and aggressive defender of Snowe’s, often times to my own detriment.  I’ve always respected her penchant for going rogue on her own party, always believed her independent voting record was based on principal, appreciated her pragmatism, and admired her statesmanship.  Her 30 year career is one of distinguished accomplishment, and Maine is a better place because of her.

But she really, really screwed the Republican Party.

And by that I don’t mean her votes in Congress, or her participation in legislation the party disagrees with.  Her stubborn New England independent streak has been something I would argue has benefited the Republican Party over the years.

When she retired, it was the timing and manner in which she did so that sacrificed loyalty to the members of her party – particularly the local party in Maine – which had supported her (often times begrudgingly, but still supported her) in favor of other considerations.

Announcing that she was retiring with roughly two weeks before petition signatures were due threatened to torpedo her party’s chances of even fielding a candidate in the first place.  While a half dozen people did get signatures, virtually all of them barely squeaked by at the last minute.

It also afforded the party absolutely no ability to properly vet the candidates, nor did it allow them to begin their races with anything resembling momentum.  Indeed, a number of candidates who had a great deal of potential never ran, or (as was the case with candidates like Debra Plowman) never had the time nor money to build out a campaign before the primary began in earnest.

This is important, because often times the best and most dynamic campaigns with the most compelling candidates take a while to build.

People who are not already household names – like, for instance a fellow by the name of Marco Rubio in 2010 – need to slowly simmer their campaigns, build out infrastructure, gradually gain momentum, and then bring it to a boil once the election actually begins.

That was how he (Rubio) took down a sitting governor with a 70% approval rating and became a national sensation, vice presidential contender, and potential future president.

No one says that would have happened in Maine, but even “big name” candidates need time to set up their campaigns and grow, especially if they are yet to have any statewide experience.  Because of Snowe, any of the GOP nominees would be looking at less money, fewer field offices, fewer media buys and less attention, which is deadly when going up against an experienced statewide player with tons of money and an established brand like Angus King.

Beyond the lurch she left the state party in, though, she also effectively kicked the national party in the gut.

Right now, the Republicans are in a death-match against the Democrats for control of the United States Senate.  If President Obama is re-elected, a Republican House and Senate united is the only thing that will be able to effectively blunt his second term agenda, and if Mitt Romney wins, only a united Congress can enact an agenda that the GOP wants to see enacted.  Either way, the Republicans need the Senate.

Taking a guaranteed Republican seat and immediately making it a Democratic pickup opportunity was the single biggest blow to the GOP’s hopes of re-taking the Senate that we have experienced thus far in the cycle.  It is still possible, but it becomes unbelievably hard if Maine is lost.

If she was going to retire, no one would have begrudged her doing so.  After a long and distinguished career in public service, no one has the right to tell her she has to stay out of loyalty to the party.

But if she was going to go, she could have set her party up for success, and at the very least not decimated them on the way out the door.  That is where loyalty comes into play in this situation.

Snowe was running for her re-election enthusiastically, and despite some uncouth rabble-rousing by some absolutist elements within the party that did indeed take their opposition to her much too far, she was going to win her primary, and win it big.

It is tough to suggest that the party abandoned her, when in the face of nation-wide Tea Party momentum, an emboldened branch of that movement at home fresh off electing a no-nonsense Tea Party style governor, the grassroots was going to hand her a big win anyway.

So by my count, Summers messed up by not showing loyalty to his old boss who had, in fact, done a great deal for his career over the years.  But Snowe messed up by not showing loyalty to the national Republican Party, the state Republican Party, and the activists and voters who had sacrificed a lot of their credibility within the base of the party by going to the mat for her, only to be left in the lurch.

That says to me that loyalty hill is not the one to die on for either Snowe or Summers.  No one is perfect. Time to recognize that and patch things up, and then focus on taking down The King.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.