In a sane world, the Republican Party – both here in Maine and nationally – would be doing a lot of serious soul-searching right now.

At the national level, Republicans made gains in the U.S. House last year, but it wasn’t enough to regain the majority. And they lost both the White House and control of the U.S. Senate.

Here in Maine, the 2020 elections were basically a wash: Donald Trump won again in the 2nd Congressional District but lost the statewide vote. All the federal incumbents won re-election, and Democrats remained in power in Augusta. That might seem satisfactory, but it’s not: It’s a failure. It should warrant a serious re-examination of the Maine Republican Party’s strategy, personnel and procedures, to determine how they can do better going forward. The Democrats have already begun this process nationally, since the mixed results were disappointing to them as well. Sadly, Republicans don’t seem interested in that kind of self-examination, here in Maine or nationally.

Instead, they seem to be more interested in fighting among themselves.

There were already hints of this before the election, but it burst out into the open when members of the Republican State Committee – including state party leadership – sent Sen. Susan Collins a letter decrying her vote to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. The Maine Republican Party never should have even sent the letter, and they certainly shouldn’t move forward with any kind of censure of Sen. Collins. Indeed, rather than attempting to punish her for daring to disagree with Donald Trump, the state party ought to be asking her for advice.

All over the country, Republicans not named Donald Trump did far better than expected, and Susan Collins was part of the trend. She not only easily won re-election, but also got around 57,000 more votes than Trump did in Maine. If the Maine Republican Party were serious about trying to win in 2022 and beyond, they would be asking themselves how to attract those voters to the party. While these ticket-splitters may have abandoned Trump, they’re clearly open to voting for other Republicans, now and in the future. That makes them far different from voters who not only voted against Trump, but also voted straight Democratic the rest of the way.

These 57,000 voters are a big part of the reason why the state committee’s letter to Susan Collin was such a terrible idea: It sends the message to those voters, straight from party leadership, that they’re not welcome in the Republican Party. It not only alienates them but also does nothing to bring any other new voters in to the party, either.

At best, one can hope that most voters don’t hear about the letter and that it heads off an even-worse attempt from grassroots activists to somehow punish Susan Collins, but hoping for the best is not a viable political strategy. Indeed, that’s the approach that Maine Republicans have taken all too often in campaigns over the years, and it’s a big part of the reason they’ve so often failed over the years. When Republican candidates have been successful in Maine – whether moderates or conservatives – it’s been because they’ve made their own success, not because they’ve coasted along and hoped for the best.

It’s important to remember that the primary job of the Maine Republican Party is not to impose loyalty tests on elected officials, but to elect all Republicans and grow the party as a whole. Every single person on the state committee should be committed wholeheartedly to that goal, and every time they do something politically, they should be asking themselves how it helps further that. It’s hard to see how the state committee openly criticizing the most popular Republican in Maine helps to grow the party or get anyone elected. Instead, it’s a chance for them to air their grievances and pat themselves on the back publicly.

Now, that’s not to say that members of the state committee ought to be barred from ever publicly disagreeing with Republicans in office; just like everyone else, they have every right to do so. If they want to criticize Collins for her votes, publicly or privately, they can do so on their own, but the Maine Republican Party shouldn’t be providing a venue for them. That’s not the role of the party leaders. Their job is to win elections, not host a debating society. If they continue to prioritize loyalty to Donald Trump over winning, then they’re not doing their jobs and it’s time for a change in party leadership.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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