Collins, Poliquin: Unable or unwilling to escape Donald Trump’s orbit?

Standing proudly with the Republican presidential nominee has proven to be tough for Maine’s federal legislators in the GOP, Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Yet, unlike a resolute group of conservatives, neither has removed themselves from Donald Trump’s orbit. While Poliquin seems ready to join with Trump but won’t say so publicly, Collins has visibly kept some distance while not ruling out support.

Donald Trump starts out as the Republican Party’s presidential standard bearer as the most disliked presidential candidate in the history of polling. Trump is deeply unpopular with women, a majority of voters. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the population, and presidential candidates need at least 40 percent of Latinos’ votes to win. Mitt Romney received only 27 percent. Now only 12 percent of Latinos see Trump favorably, compared with 59 percent who view Hillary Clinton positively.

Part of why Trump is so disliked are his statements on public affairs, from his comments that women who have abortions should be prosecuted to his comments about using an unconstitutional religious test to determine who gets into the country.

But Trump’s temperament and evident lack of interest in learning anything from people with expertise also harm how people see him. He’s thin-skinned, has threatened to go after the owner of The Washington Post because the paper criticized and investigated him, and, according to Politifact, told more lies than any other 2016 candidate. (Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the most truthful.)

All of these Trump troubles have led certain Republicans to say Never Trump. Some would vote for Clinton while others will not.

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman told a reporter, “I know I won’t vote for Trump.” Whitman criticized the man who now holds her state’s governorship, saying, “I am ashamed that Christie would endorse anyone who has employed the kind of hate mongering and racism that Trump has.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will not back Trump. Graham explained, “I also cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as commander in chief.”

Defense intellectual Max Boot, after stating, “I have been a Republican as long as I can remember,” argued the party “has been killed by Donald Trump, adding, “Trump is an ignorant demagogue who traffics in racist and misogynistic slurs and crazy conspiracy theories.”

Bill Kristol, one-time chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, and editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, has always voted for Republican presidential candidates but now asserts, “I cannot vote for Donald Trump” because, “It is clear that Donald Trump does not have the character to be president of the United States.”

This whole column could be filled with the names of reliable Republicans who won’t vote for Trump, from pundits like Erick Erickson to the Latino mayor of Miami to comedian P.J. O’Rourke.

Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Caribou earlier this month. Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican

Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Caribou earlier this month. Christopher Bouchard | Aroostook Republican

But two prominent Maine Republicans — Susan Collins and Bruce Poliquin — do not appear on that list. Their open comments (or lack thereof) reveal a lot about their situation and that of the Grand Old Party.

Poliquin continues to evade saying anything about Trump publicly. Yet he told a closed door meeting of conservative activists that he’s going to be acting as Trump’s partner if he gets elected president. Regarding Trump, Poliquin proudly predicted, “He’s gonna say ‘We’re going in this direction. Poliquin, you fix this.’”

Collins said “I suspect” she will support the Republican nominee, remarking it will depend on whether he eschews the personal vilification that dominates Trump’s rhetoric. Collins’ position is close to the straddle attempted by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is up for re-election this year. Ayotte, who presents herself as somewhat independent from her fellow Republicans, says she will vote for Trump but “isn’t planning to endorse anyone.”

No doubt, the politics are hard for many Republican elected officials. While Trump is quite unpopular overall, he wouldn’t be the GOP nominee if there weren’t significant support for him from rank-and-file Republicans.

Buffeted by competing political forces, the Trumpian gravitational pull links Collins and Poliquin to this uniquely difficult Republican nominee, and they seem unable or unwilling to escape Trump’s orbit.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.