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In recent years one question has loomed: Has the Republican Party become the party of Trump?
This query resonates particularly in Maine since loyalty to an individual contrasts with our state’s valuing of political judgment and independence.
With Donald Trump still a powerful figure in his party and a potential 2024 candidate, former congressman and 2022 candidate Bruce Poliquin has given his answer on how much Trump’s views guide him.
Rather than pledging to reach his own conclusions about issues, individuals and events, Poliquin confessed his lack of independence.
Last week Poliquin indicated he wouldn’t have made independent decisions about Trump’s impeachments, saying, “I disagree with anybody impeaching somebody who’s supported by the people of the 2nd District.” Trump won the district in 2016 and 2020 while losing Maine statewide.
Imagine if that standard had been in place for the Watergate scandal. In 1972, Richard Nixon had a big win nationally, in Maine statewide and in both congressional districts. Yet back then Republican Rep. Bill Cohen carried out his constitutional duty and voted for two articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee, even after Nixon’s private political entreaty to Republican committee members that he “may be a son of a bitch, but I’m your son of a bitch.”
Now, even with the benefit of hindsight, Poliquin proclaimed opposition to impeaching Trump in 2019 for abusing power by trying to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to gain a political favor. Today, with Ukranians valiantly fighting the Russian invasion, a refusal to impeach looks especially egregious. True, back then nearly all Republicans opposed impeachment and removal, but recently Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger called Trump’s move “a shameful and illegal act, directly hurting the Ukraine defense today” and said he regretted voting against impeachment.
In the second impeachment, 10 Republican House members and seven GOP senators (including Sen. Susan Collins) rebuked Trump for “incitement of insurrection.”
Whatever the merits of the Trump impeachments, Poliquin’s rule of thumb relieves House members and senators from their constitutional duties to assess if actions merit impeachment and removal. They might as well be robots who vote based on election results.
In addition, as BDN reporter Jessica Piper reported, last week “Poliquin declined to say . . . whether he thought President Joe Biden was legitimately elected in 2020.” With this, Poliquin situated himself with Trump’s distrust toward our election system.
Poliquin’s non-answer raises questions as to whether, after insurrectionists held up congressional proceedings on Jan. 6, 2021, Poliquin would have voted to accept every state’s electoral votes — or if he would have followed Trump’s instructions to reject some.
Poliquin’s side-stepping a straightforward query also fits with a similar tendency when he served in Congress. Perhaps most memorable was when Poliquin wouldn’t say if he backed repealing the Affordable Care Act, something he — unlike the rest of Maine’s federal delegation — later voted to do. Poliquin avoided a journalist by ducking into a woman’s bathroom and then, discovering his error, entering a men’s bathroom, and then emerging with earbuds and still not replying.
Now Poliquin has synchronized himself with Trump on his impeachments and Big Lies on the election.
What a contrast to Republicans Trump attacked who pushed back. Last weekend Rep. Tom Rice, R-South Carolina, proclaimed Trump “consumed by spite” because Rice voted to impeach in 2021. Rice said his Trump-endorsed primary opponent is “a yes man candidate who has and will bow to anything [Trump] says, no matter what.”
Like Rice’s opponent, defining himself as a Republican with fealty to Trump is part of Poliquin’s campaign strategy.
But Poliquin making an issue of Rep. Jared Golden accepting the obvious legitimacy of Biden’s win and Golden’s impeachment votes for abuse of power in 2019 and incitement in 2021 may have limited electoral appeal.
Golden has been anything but a down-the-line partisan; he voted against several of Biden’s major legislative proposals and rejected the 2019 impeachment article on obstruction of Congress.
While Golden certainly faces midterm political headwinds, it’s worth noting that Golden received more votes in his district than Trump when they were both on the ballot in 2020.
Moreover, Golden’s stance fits with what Mainers have long been seen as holding dear — thoughtful judgment combined with an independent spirit.