Whenever there’s a reboot, sequel or adaptation of any kind, the moment comes fraught with peril for fans of the original product. You simultaneously hope that someone can bring the franchise forward into a new era with new ideas and attract new fans without completely ruining everything you love about it. It’s also a danger for the studio, which might gain a whole new generation of fans while simultaneously losing its base.

Politicians face this same dilemma every time they run for higher office: They have to reinvent themselves to a certain degree without completely abandoning their original principles and supporters. Here in Maine, we see in action live before our eyes a special version of this: former Gov. Paul LePage, who is vying to return to his old job.

While LePage may be reinventing himself to a certain degree for his latest run, it’s not the first time he’s done this, as longtime observers of Maine politics will recognize. During his first run for governor, he was a freewheeling, cut-it-loose politician who didn’t ever care that he upset the political and media establishment. When LePage says that he was Trump before Trump, this is the era to which he was referring. Throughout his whole first term, he governed that way, too, often equally annoying Republican and Democrats alike – although Republicans managed to stay fairly united through his first two years in office, when he had the majority.

Then, when he ran for re-election against a more well-known and centrist opponent, former congressman Mike Michaud, he toned things down a bit and got better at staying on message. This was, essentially, LePage 2.0: For the duration of the campaign, at least, he was more disciplined, focusing on the accomplishments of his first four years and laying out what he would do for the next. Voters rewarded him for this, too, giving him a fairly easy victory over Michaud, despite the predictions of many pundits and prognosticators.

Now, though, we’re seeing a new version of LePage: Like a certain jam band from Vermont, he’s entered the 3.0 era as he’s trying to reclaim his old job. Just like a reboot or a reunion tour, though, the question for LePage is whether he can maintain his robust base while broadening his appeal to expand his coalition. He’s already tried to soften his image on immigration by appearing at the Maine GOP’s opening of an immigrant welcome center on Munjoy Hill, even as he made it clear he didn’t want state taxpayer money to support those applying for refugee status.

He’s trying to do a similar turn-about on another of his signature issues: taxes. For years, LePage has – correctly – pushed to completely eliminate the state income tax, which would put us more in line with our neighboring state of New Hampshire. If that sounds like a trivial issue to you, perhaps, it isn’t to major companies who are choosing where to expand or build their business. They always consider all sorts of factors, to be sure, but if they have to pick between two neighboring states, they’ll almost always go with the one that has the lower regulatory and tax burden. That’s why Maine Republicans have consistently pushed for lower regulations and lower taxes over the years: Not only is it better for Mainers, it improves our ability to compete with New Hampshire and other states.

The problem, though, is that LePage could never quite get his fellow Republicans in Augusta on board with the idea of completely eliminating the income tax. A big part of that reason is that his solution to paying for it sounded suspiciously like a rejected scheme of his Democratic predecessor, John Baldacci: expanding the sales tax. Republicans rightly rejected that concept, as raising taxes is never a good idea.

Now, though, he’s abandoned that concept, and instead wants to eliminate the income tax in phases. This is a much better approach, and one that should be more politically palatable to both Augusta politicians and his base. It will still be difficult, to be sure, but it won’t be completely impossible, like trying to accomplish it in one fell swoop. If LePage keeps showing a willingness to bend his ideas to political reality, he might just convince the public that he knows how to get things done, rather than just launching political talking points.

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

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