She’s got the “moderation” thing down pat. But it’s high time Maine Sen. Susan Collins worked on her outrage.

“My goal is to get government reopened as quickly as possible,” Collins said in an email Friday afternoon. “This partial shutdown represents a failure to govern and harms not only those who need to interact with the closed agencies, but also hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families.”

How nice. How rational. How utterly inadequate.

Pundits far and wide sat up and took note last week when Collins, along with fellow Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, pushed back on their party’s abject servitude to President Trump by keenly articulating the obvious: The current federal shutdown is a bad idea.

Everyone, save Trump’s shrinking base, already knows that. They also know that the further this runaway train careens into 2019 – Trump suggested Friday that the shutdown could go on for “years” – the more havoc awaits via federal tax refunds that go unprocessed, food stamps that evaporate and other vital services that go dormant.

All of this because Trump wants $5.6 billion for his border wall/fence/steel slats. The same contraption he once promised would be paid for by Mexico.

Outrageous? Try insane.

As many a news outlet suggested last week, Collins and Gardner, as of Friday the only two Senate Republicans to at least speak to the absurdity of it all, both face tough re-election campaigns in 2020 and thus are motivated at least in part by self-preservation.

Be that as it may, it’s a sad testimony to the fecklessness of today’s Republican Party that such tepid calls for reopening the federal government would be viewed as acts of political bravery. At what point did we conflate courage with simple common sense?

Noticeably absent from Collins’ comments was any mention of the two men most responsible for this debacle: Trump, who once again failed to foresee the consequences of his impulsive decision making, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, currently the president’s chief enabler.

Did Collins call out Trump for the disaster of a chief executive that he has become? Nope.

Did she criticize McConnell specifically for abdicating his role as leader of a co-equal branch of government? Not a peep.

Instead, she put out a carefully worded statement about how this “partial” shutdown is the wrong way to go. Then, referring to the six federal funding bills that the Senate already passed before Trump refused to sign them late last month, she not-so-boldly proclaimed, “I’d like to see those signed into law.”

Who wouldn’t?

It’s a strategy that’s growing noticeably less effective for Collins as she weighs her political future. (Spoiler alert: She told news outlets last week that while she hasn’t made a final decision, “it is my intention to run for re-election.”)

Lauded across the political spectrum only 16 months ago for voting to preserve the Affordable Care Act, she now finds herself out of favor with many Mainers who pleaded for her to oppose Trump’s tax cut, which she ultimately supported, and to stand firm against Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, whom she voted to confirm.

As a result, with the 2020 election already casting a long shadow across Capitol Hill, Collins now finds herself more secure than ever with her Republican constituents, yet steadily losing traction with the independents and Democrats who for so long have rewarded her perceived “moderation” with victory margins well into the double digits.

Part of her sagging poll numbers can be tied to growing fatigue with Collins’ tendency to say what people want to hear, only to fall into line with her party when the time comes to vote. (See: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.)

But another part stems from a changing political landscape brought on in no small part by a president whose behavior grows more erratic by the day. If Republicans are ever to wrestle their party back from the man who famously said he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters,” they’ll need to stand up to Trump and his apologists and denounce him as the demagogue he so clearly is.

Collins is particularly well positioned to do just that.

Take, for example, her much heralded, 43-minute speech on the Senate floor back in October, when she carefully and deliberately enumerated her reasons for voting to confirm Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court.

Conservatives loved it. Liberals hated it. But no one can say Collins failed to speak her mind.

If this shutdown is as ill-advised as she says it is and if her own party, led by Trump and McConnell, is so clearly responsible for grinding the federal government to a halt, why can’t Collins march into the Senate chamber this week and spend three-quarters of an hour explaining what’s wrong with this picture?

Some might warn that such a declaration of conscience would only set her up for a far-right primary challenge come June of 2020. But honestly, name one Maine Republican with the money, organization and name recognition who could actually beat her.

More importantly, standing up to the powers that be and, political fortunes be damned, denouncing this degradation of our democracy would be, plainly and simply, the right thing to do. This is no longer a time for political comity – it’s time to start naming names.

Instead, we’re left with our “moderate” senator who “broke from her party” to tell us this shutdown “represents a failure to govern.”

We already get that, Senator.

What say you actually do something about it?

 

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