To my admitted surprise, “White people-gate” was the political scandal that wasn’t. And that’s remarkable, considering the overt and explosive racial language Gov. LePage employed.
For most politicians — even those who have built a reputation for ignominious, belligerent and ignorant rhetorical flourishes — the governor’s comments could have been career ending. And, candidly, they probably should have been.
That the governor walked away from this largely unscathed is as scandalous and contemptible as the comments themselves.
Little more than two weeks ago, two anonymous Republican state senators confirmed to this newspaper and other media outlets that the governor told an audience of 60 people at a private fundraiser that the first African-American president of the United States “hates white people.”
That the governor said precisely those words, as reported, is unquestionable. The governor and his staff know it. Republican Party officials and legislative leaders (several of whom were present) know it. Event attendees know it. Political operatives and insiders know it.
Yet no one will come forward and confirm it, preferring instead a remarkable complicity in a lie and cover-up.
The collective and grotesque willingness of party leaders to place politics above what is right, decent, honorable and true entitles each of them to the same contempt the governor is correctly due.
Equally remarkable is that these leaders continue to stand by this governor, even though they privately acknowledge he is an unmitigated millstone around the party’s neck.
Apparently the governor’s political intimidation machine is so strong and successful that it trumps any sense of political self-preservation amongst party leaders, to say nothing of any waning impulses toward honesty and decency.
What has evolved in the last three years is a myopic and ridiculous pattern of Republicans hoping LePage will keep his mouth shut, taking a political bath when he inevitably doesn’t, suffering the electoral consequences and then doing absolutely nothing about it.
Is there no one in the Republican Party taking a long view? Is there no adult willing to endure a few weeks of intense political pain from LePage’s 38-percenters in order to save the party from years in the political wilderness?
Like a black hole destructively collapsing under its own gravity, the party’s electoral appeal is inexorably shrinking under LePage’s leadership, with little hope of reversing course.
Internally, Maine Republicans are splintered and divided, with tribal camps operating on a hair trigger bent on intra-party dissent and revenge.
As one Republican insider confessed to me, “These days I’m reluctant to tell people I’m a Republican because they immediately think I’m some kind of knuckle-dragger.” Yes, it’s gotten that bad.
Yet Republicans continue to do nothing to save themselves from this governor.
Again and again they fold like a cheap suit, just as they did in the last legislative session, reversing themselves countless times to sustain gubernatorial vetoes on legislation they overwhelmingly supported.
If sensible, moderate Republicans can’t bring themselves to rebuke this governor when he deliberately appeals to his political base by using the despicable politics of race baiting, there is little hope they will make any attempt to meaningfully silence or challenge him on any issues of real import.
As a result, they will reap what they sow at the ballot box in 2014.
And if by chance the governor himself manages to win re-election with the same slim minority as in 2010, Republicans will regret their silence even more as LePage becomes wholly unconstrained by any consequence or imperative of electoral politics.
Some Republicans think LePage is now in a comprised position; that he’s weakened and can be forced into legislative corners and concessions during the next legislative session.
They are deluding themselves.
Their persistent silence and inaction emboldens the governor, enabling him to bully, lie and intimidate with near-impunity.
Perhaps Republicans think there’s no upside in challenging this governor. Perhaps they are comfortable with 62 percent of Maine voters believing that LePage brings “national embarrassment” to the state, or are content with further electoral losses and growing party disunity.
Perhaps remaining in LePage’s good graces creates more immediate and irresistible personal and political currency than elevating the long-term good of the party or even the state.
Whatever the reason, Maine Republicans are demonstrating a remarkable collective case of Stockholm syndrome, progressing so dramatically over LePage’s first term that they not only defend their captor, but now mistake his lack of abuse for an act of kindness.
Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at: