With the election of Bruce Poliquin as the Republican nominee in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, there’s little doubt that Maine’s Grand Old Party is growing inexorably more conservative, more ideologically rigid and, as a result, older and more homogeneous.
Poliquin’s vanquished rival, Kevin Raye, alluded to as much on election night, saying, “I expect (Poliquin) would have a hard time in the general election,” and noting that Poliquin’s primary victory “says something about the direction of the Republican Party.”
What it says is that the Republican Party can no longer bear compromise; that it rejects even the whiff of moderation, and that it harshly enforces intellectual and ideological rigidity. It is, in other words, no longer the party of Kevin Raye and could scarcely countenance a present-day Olympia Snowe or Bill Cohen.
And this ideological drift is hardly a phenomenon the party tries to hide. Poliquin actively campaigned on his unwillingness to compromise and, by extension, his absolute willingness to elevate ideology over governing and problem-solving.
Poliquin is a textbook aspirant to the Republican “suicide caucus,” a group of deeply conservative, hyperpartisan members of Congress who possess little concern for political practicality, disdain governing and pursue elected office for the purpose of tearing government down.
The group possesses an almost pathological willingness to sacrifice the best interests of the country in pursuit of ideological purity and exhibits a disturbing casualness about – if not enthusiasm for – holding government hostage.
In other words, Poliquin inhabits the tea party-powered alternate political universe where compromise is defeat, gridlock is success and the ends justify the means.
So when Poliquin says he will not compromise, he’s conceding that he’s a vote for deeper partisanship, greater gridlock and more of the legislative hostage-taking that last year brought us a government shutdown and a near-catastrophic default on the federal debt.
But this ideological pathology is hardly confined to Poliquin. It is also embodied in Gov. Le-Page, who rode a similar wave of tea party discontent to claim his party’s nomination over moderates like Steve Abbott, Peter Mills and Matt Jacobson.
And after three years of Le-Page, Mainers now understand that this hardened, uncompromising ideology is not simply expedient primary politics – it precipitates a governing approach where dogma defies facts, a fight is preferable to a negotiated win and the working poor are casual collateral damage.
And that is what Bruce Poliquin wants to bring to Washington. And he is not alone.
Virginia’s tea party zealots toppled Eric Cantor, the second most powerful Republican in the U.S. House, on election night. Cantor, the sitting House majority leader, was defeated in a Republican primary by a political novice after suffering accusations of moderation and compromising with the president. He was even attacked for not sufficiently opposing Obamacare, despite Cantor’s role in staging more than 40 votes to repeal all or parts of the law.
And if the House majority leader – hardly a “moderate” by any meaningful measure – is vulnerable in a primary, then a real New England moderate like Sen. Susan Collins is potentially vulnerable, too. Yes, she successfully avoided a primary this election cycle, but the principal threat to her political future remains a challenge from a Republican claiming deeper partisanship and greater ideological purity.
A Public Policy Polling survey from November found that “only 38 percent of Republican voters think (Susan Collins) actually belongs in their party compared to 26 percent who think she should be an independent and 22 percent who believe she should be a Democrat.” That “says something” indeed.
But for all the dramatic ideological hardening on the right, those of us on the left must also remain vigilant against our own form of ideological calcification and drift.
I refer specifically to the brand of liberal populism that is suspicious of – if not outright hostile to – virtually any profit-making endeavor of significant size and scope. That populism was embodied in the congressional candidacy of Troy Jackson, who sought to blame corporations and corporate greed for nearly every ill Maine suffers.
And while Jackson’s campaign was soundly defeated, that populist vein still runs deep in some Democratic and Green party circles and principally powered Portland’s successful “Yes on 1” referendum campaign.
For these ultra-liberal ideologues, there is, quizzically, no contradiction in being “for” jobs and growth, but then attacking the entities that create them.
But not every business can be small, locally owned, zero-emissions, unionized and solar-powered. And if that is the threshold of “acceptability” for a business to acquire a social license to operate in Maine, then our economy – and our people – will continue to suffer.
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 Boston and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington. He can be contacted at: