Susan Collins, left, and Sara Gideon Credit: BDN

Washington Democrats must believe Mainers are stupid.

That is the only logical conclusion I can reach given the ads being run by the so-called “ Senate Majority PAC,” affiliated with Sen. Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders.

Plenty has been written about the Paycheck Protection Program. Sen. Susan Collins was one of its authors. Its rollout had some major hiccups. Publicly-traded companies received loans, only to pay them back. Left wing groups assailed the concept. Now, Collins’ campaign is lambasting Sara Gideon for attacking the program while the latter’s loved ones simultaneously benefited from it.

It is a good, old-fashioned policy debate. Maybe bare knuckled, but still fair game.

Until the Washington-based “Senate Majority PAC” jumped into the fray. Some of their ads border on defamatory, accusing Collins of “pocketing” money from pharmaceutical companies. The connotation is that she somehow grifts them for personal gain, rather than normal campaign fundraising.

Then, in an effort to outdo itself, the PAC attacks Collins for letting “out-of-state hotels” access federal coronavirus relief programs.

Think about that. They are attacking Collins — a duly-elected U.S. senator — for helping to enact a national program. Not because of the program itself, but because it helps “out-of-state” interests.

That is why I can only assume D.C.-based Democrats think we are stupid. Will Mainers really be upset with Collins for helping advance national legislation? Do we really expect Congress — 435 representatives, 100 senators — to enact Maine-specific programs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?

Or do Schumer’s allies believe the “out-of-state” phrase will just earworm its way into our minds, and people will just feel “off” when they think about Collins? Is that why they accuse her of “pocketing” money while their largest funders are unions and Democratic financiers like Donald Sussman?

It gets back to the lack of consistency — or maybe hypocrisy — in politics today.

GOP groups are attacking Maine House Speaker Gideon for failing to respond to rumors about former Democratic Rep. Dillon Bates. He was accused of inappropriate relationships with underaged girls. Gideon approached him in early 2018 about the rumors; he denied them. No further action was taken.

Until Aug. 3, 2018, when The Bollard broke the story. Gideon then called on Bates to resign as the accusations became public.

The parallels between the Bates affair and the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation saga are clear. At first, Gideon followed the same path as Collins. A person was accused of heinous actions without any further evidence. Based on that record, Gideon continued to let Bates serve. Collins did the same with Kavanaugh.

Yet, when the rumors surrounding Bates’ behavior became public, albeit anonymous, accusations, Gideon convicted him in the court of public opinion and called for resignation. It did not seem as if new information had surfaced. Rather, the matter had become visible; Gideon responded to that publicity.

Gideon’s inconsistency is fair game. If her decision making is predicated on the publicity of an issue, then it should be called out. But her first approach — she would not retaliate against Bates without evidence beyond accusations — should not be denigrated by the GOP. It was the same course of action pursued by Collins with the accusations against Kavanaugh.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Contrary to the implications of the Senate Majority PAC’s advertisements, Mainers are smart enough to see — or hear — past the obfuscation. Of course Collins is going to help “out-of-state” organizations; she is a U.S. senator, she is making policy on behalf of the nation. Gideon’s change of heart on Bates is fair to explore, but we can’t fault her for following the footsteps of Collins.

A little bit of consistency and critical thinking can go a long way. With luck, it can even get us to Election Day.

And past all of these stupid ads.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan and in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine. He was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.