Thursday, December 12, 2013
QUESTION: “Should Olympia Snowe use her leftover campaign funds to help Charlie Summers and Maine Republicans?”
MICHAEL CUZZI is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Sen. John Kerry, and 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.
Charlie Summers was a reasonable and likely beneficiary of financial largesse from Sen. Olympia Snowe.
But then he committed a shocking act of political disloyalty.
Summers has enjoyed nearly a decade of political patronage from Snowe, including working in her Senate office for nine years, an appointment as the regional administrator for the Small Business Administration, and Snowe's active political and financial support for his failed congressional campaigns.
To say Summers owes Sen. Snowe a significant debt for his positions as both Maine's secretary of state and its Republican U.S. Senate nominee is understating the case.
Yet when Snowe faced a tea-party challenge in her ultimately-abandoned primary re-election campaign, Summers stuck his head in the sand, forsaking his former boss and benefactor.
Because Summers felt compelled to kowtow to tea-party activists who are increasingly the power center within the Republican Party and who detest both moderation and compromise.
In that absolutist environment, Summers saw Snowe -- even with favorable poll numbers typically north of 60 percent -- as a political liability.
Summers claimed that his role as secretary of state made it "inopportune" to endorse Snowe.
But if it's inopportune to make a simple political endorsement as secretary of state, then it's approaching scandalous to run for U.S. Senate in that same position. (But I digress).
Even tea-party favorite Gov. Paul LePage, recognizing his own personal and political indebtedness to Snowe, publicly and unequivocally endorsed her.
So, too, did Snowe's former chief of staff and current Senate president, Kevin Raye.
Summers had ample political cover to endorse and, since he wasn't a candidate for any public office at the time, his political risk was essentially nil.
Summers chose his own political ambitions and perceived future viability over his own personal and professional indebtedness to Snowe.
It was an unambiguous confirmation of the increasing influence of the far right, as well as an unfortunate and shortsighted display of political miscalculation and cowardice.
Importantly, the same extremism that compelled Summers to abandon Snowe appears to have also influenced Snowe's re-allocation of her former campaign war chest.
With nearly $2 million in surplus campaign funds, Snowe chose to establish the Olympia Snowe Women's Leadership Institute and to develop a multi-candidate federal PAC to support like-minded candidates interested in building consensus and reducing polarization.
Conspicuously absent from Snowe's initial re-allocation are traditional party institutions like the Republican National Committee, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, the Maine Republican Party or even her party's nominee for president.
Perhaps those contributions will ultimately come from her nascent political action committee. But those partisan organizations aren't exactly known for reducing polarization and fostering consensus.
The truth is the Republican Party and its leaders treated Snowe callously, scornful of her willingness to compromise or to acknowledge legitimacy in the occasional Democratic idea.
In its march to ideological extremes, the party of Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and the tea party gradually left Olympia Snowe behind and, in the end, effectively pushed her out.
By aggressively cultivating an all-or-nothing approach in Washington, Republican leaders appear likely -- like Charlie Summers -- to get nothing from Olympia Snowe.
Michael Cuzzi can be contacted at:
email@example.com or@CuzzMJ on Twitter