Susan Collins: Declaration of conscience or political convenience?

Steven Biel: Your old boss Susan Collins finally said she wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump this week. Pardon me if I don’t pin a medal on your her chest. It’s something she should have done months ago.

Lance Dutson: Sen. Collins has made Maine proud once again by standing up for what’s right. Donald Trump is a disaster and an embarrassment, and the list of prominent Republicans willing to choose country over party is growing longer every day. It’s something to be proud of, and Republicans sure need that right now. Enduring Trump as the standard-bearer of our party has been humiliating, but the tide appears to be turning.

Steven: Yes, and I’ll give her credit for not being as spineless as, say, Bruce Poliquin. But Trump has been a hot mess of sexism, racism, and flat-out mental instability throughout his entire campaign. All that’s changed is that his poll numbers are in free fall. Do you honestly believe she’d have done this if the race was still tied — or if Trump was winning?

Lance: Of course she would have. Collins has never supported Trump. She backed Jeb Bush during the primary, and she’s been critical of Trump’s nonsense all along. Her announcement yesterday did not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed her career. She’s always done what’s best for this country.

Steven: Well, we can see why she gets such good press coverage in Maine. You’re an excellent media flack. But I’m sorry. This just feels like typical finger-to-the-wind politician behavior. She could have taken this stand during the primary when there was still a real chance to stop him like Lindsey Graham did. She could have spoken out two weeks ago when the polls were close and it looked like this sociopath might actually get elected.

Sen. Susan Collins at the Maine GOP Convention in April. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Sen. Susan Collins at the Maine GOP Convention in April. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Lance: How do you take a stronger position than supporting a different candidate? And speaking out against his ghastly statements?

Steven: You take a stronger position by saying you won’t vote for him before it’s patently obvious to everyone on the planet that he’s going lose.

Lance: That’s something only a rank partisan would say, and it’s a classic example of why Democrats have not won a majority of votes in a statewide race since George Mitchell. Mainers don’t care about political parties. We care about doing the right thing. Even after Collins has excoriated Trump, Maine Democratic Party Chair Phil Bartlett made the ludicrous false statement that she is “tacitly helping Trump’s candidacy.” This is not the time to try to score cheap points against Maine’s most popular politician.

Steven: O.K., for the sake of argument, let’s take her explanation at face value. She said the tipping point was Trump’s fight with the Gold Star family. That means nothing he did before that was a deal-breaker, including calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, saying women should be punished for abortion, banning Muslims from entering the U.S., retweeting white supremacists, threatening to nuke Europe, etc., etc.? On Tuesday she even defended him for his Second Amendment solution comment.

Lance: Did she specifically articulate every single thing he’s done wrong? Of course not. She would have needed 100 pages of newsprint for that. She said exactly what she needed to say, as she always has.

Steven: She said exactly what she knew would get her the most positive press coverage, as she always has. Look, we’ve been watching the rise of Trump-ism in Maine for years in the person of Paul LePage. President Obama hates white people. Immigrants bring disease. Drug dealers from New York impregnating young white girls. Why didn’t she speak out against any of that? Maybe because it would have required some actual political risk?

Lance: You are really reaching. Susan Collins is one of the most popular members of the U.S. Senate, and the most popular politician in Maine. She doesn’t need to follow the polls to determine her positions, she is in that rare air where her actions drive public opinion more than vice versa.

Steven: Well, I can’t argue with that. And after this week, her popularity will only increase — which is all you need to know to understand why she did it.

Left Brain Right Brain

About Left Brain Right Brain

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party. Steven Biel is a former campaign director for and president of the Portland-based political consulting firm Steven Biel Strategies, which provides digital campaign support to organizations including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Courage Campaign, and Environment America.