Sen. Susan Collins took a sound and sensible step last week in standing up for the traditional values of the Republican Party, in which she has flourished as one of its more moderate members.

Sen. Collins scolded Utah Republicans for harassing her colleague, Mitt Romney, saying she was “appalled” by their treatment of a fellow – and equally moderate – Republican.

Ms. Collins also defended Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican conservative from Wyoming who, like Romney (and Collins), voted to convict Donald Trump in the second impeachment trial.

“We are not a party that is led by just one person,” Collins said. “There are many prominent, upcoming younger men and women … who hold great promise.”

The Republican Party today faces its gravest crisis of leadership since the downfall of Richard M. Nixon and the Watergate scandal – and it calls for acts of courage and conscience from moderates such as Collins.

Is it the party of Abraham Lincoln, with respect for the Constitution, the rule of law, free speech and civil rights? Or is it the party of Trump, a disgraced demagogue who does not respect the rule of law, who tried to overturn a legitimate election for months before, during and after the vote as 3,000 Americans were dying every day from a pandemic he did very little to confront from day one?


The crisis came to a head this week as Trump minions in Congress – a majority of whom voted to block certification of President Biden’s decisive victory – removed Cheney, an outspoken critic of the former president, from her leadership position in the House, installing in her place Trump defender Rep. Elise Stefanik.

Cheney condemned Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election and denounced the “dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”  She said Trump incited the rioting and attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

As a senior Republican, Collins, safely re-elected for six years, could meet with Republican senators who recognize that Donald Trump does not represent the best future of the party or the national interests of the nation.

They could form a rump Republican caucus in the Senate. All kinds of subgroups exist in Congress – the Freedom Caucus, Black Caucus, etc. Under her leadership, it should be easy to recruit moderate Republicans who regard Trump as a nightmare of the past such as Romney, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

They don’t have to leave the party. But they can make it clear that they will not kowtow to party leaders still fearful of a bitter and defeated charlatan. They could form an independent bloc – willing to seek bipartisan compromise on critical national problems from infrastructure and health care to police reform and climate change.

The Republican Party faced grave challenges in the past – and overcame them, largely when true moderates stood up for principle and American values.


The Watergate crisis was one of the worst such crises. Collins’ own mentor, former Secretary of Defense and Sen. William S. Cohen, should serve as an exemplar for her in courage and conscience.

As a young member of the House, Cohen was the first Republicans to back the investigation of President Richard Nixon and support his impeachment.

Risking his own career in 1973, long before most Republicans began to criticize Nixon, Cohen declared: “We are not without our failings, our weaknesses,… so I will not pass judgment on the president personally. But that must not prevent us from passing judgment upon the conduct of our elected leaders.”

Another Republican who stood out during Watergate was Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. of Maryland. Early in the crisis, he said:

“There have been actions over the past few years that have caused some in positions of power and responsibility to forget that the highest loyalty of an American public servant is not to any personality whether he be a President or a general or a senator; nor is it to any organization, department, agency or party. His first loyalty is to the law of the land built upon constitutional foundations by Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton … and other great men of our revolutionary past.”

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