The Republicans that officially resigned from their party in Maine this weekend tell us a lot about problems inside the GOP.
On Sunday, a number prominent Republicans from Maine announced they were quitting the GOP for good in a harsh letter written to a state party official. Normally this wouldn’t be big news, people quit politics all the time. This case however seems to be different. The quitters weren’t just fringe members of their party, they included Mark Willis one of only three voting members of the Republican National Committee, the official governing body of the Republican Party, from the Pine Tree State. In addition, six members of the committee that governs the state party also resigned, as well as a number of other prominent activists.
The reasons for the resignation are numerous and run the gambit from fairly legitimate to pretty bizarre. One complaint was about the Republican National Committee’s decision at their 2012 convention to overhaul a number of delegate selection rules that would hurt future campaigns that seek to replicate Ron Paul’s insurgent style tactics from the 2008 and 2012 campaign cycles. Other complaints focused on the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner and the fact that some Republican politicians have floated the idea of supporting a comprehensive immigration reform package backed by Democrats and President Obama. In the goofy department we have anger over regulations over the sale of raw milk.
What makes this especially strange is the quitters’ anger over Republican Governor Paul LePage. LePage is a bit of a character. Styling himself a self-made businessman he was able to win a complicated seven way primary for the Republican nomination to then go on and win a close three way general election during the Tea Party wave of 2010. A Tea Partier’s Tea Partier, LePage has governed in a manner that presumably would make hard core libertarians and other conservatives happy. He refused to attend any events honoring Martin Luther King and then went on to announce to reporters that the state chapter of the NAACP could, “kiss my butt.” Later he ordered the removal of large murals depicting, among other things, the history of organized labor in Maine from the entrances of the State Department of Labor offices having his spokesman explain they were, “not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.” He also called the IRS “the new Gestapo” due to the fact that they will be enforcing the tax penalty aspect of Obamacare. And parroted Rush Limbaugh style hatred of the press during a publicity even showcasing a new fighter plane simulator declaring, “I want to find the Portland Press Herald building and blow it up.”
These sorts of antics have helped to make LePage one of the least popular governors in the county. But one thing these types of statements should do is prove your street cred with right-wing Republicans, right? Well, not really. LePage is a major target of the quitters’ wrath both because he vetoed the raw milk bill among other bills and because a budget was passed on his watch that raises state taxes. The irony here is that LePage vetoed that budget but because he is so unpopular and has so few political friends the Democratic legislature was able to override his veto and enact the tax increases. A more moderate Republican governor might have been able to stop the tax increase, but not LePage.
All of this leads right back to the conservative information feedback loop. The quitters seem to be living in a world where the only thing stopping conservative policies from being enacting is a lack of conservative willpower or treasonous Republicans who sell their side out. As if LePage could have stopped that budget if he tried little harder or if Republican state legislators stood their ground with more “courage.” In reality what happened was quite different. After winning control of both houses of the legislature and electing a Governor in 2010, the public image of Maine Republicans was dominated by a shoot from the hip politician who said offensive things and focused on symbolic, but largely unimportant, issues. The result was the Democrats took back both houses of the state legislature in 2012 and as a result they can now override a gubernatorial veto with a few Republican cross over votes from legislators worried about their own political future. After three years of LePage they are increasingly looking at dim prospects for 2014 with a widely unpopular governor at the top of the ticket.
In the end these resignations won’t do much. You change political parties and politics in general by getting more involved, not quitting. So it’s unlikely that anything big will come from the quitters. But they are a good example of a political party being stuck in a feedback loop of misinformation. Rather than see their political defeats as evidence of a need to take a more moderate stance, or at least not go out of your way to antagonize and offend people, the quitters see their failures as proof that they need an even harder line. This in turn makes it harder for Republicans to change their party’s course. Unfortunately this is the same dynamic that is playing out in Washington, but on a larger scale.
AP Photo by Robert F. Bukaty