Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.
After bruising losses in the November 2022 elections, Republicans in Maine, and across the country, are scrambling to rebrand themselves.
Here in Maine, former Gov. Paul LePage lost his campaign for a third term in the Blaine House to current Democratic Gov. Janet Mills by nearly 13 percentage points. He lost, he said after the election, because Republicans missed the message, which he said, was about abortion not heating oil. The implication was that voters cared more about reproductive rights than the economy (I think they care about both).
The state Republican Party, seeking to refocus after losing the governor’s office and failing to reclaim either chamber of the Maine Legislature, ditched its leader, dentist Demi Kouzounas, in favor of a former lawmaker who compared Democrats to Nazis because of restrictions that were implemented during the COVID pandemic.
Nationally, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recently launched her campaign for president with promises of a new generation of leadership – and pledged to move past the current “divisions and distractions.” She added in references to the perils of socialism and being woke for good measure.
In a Feb. 15 campaign speech, she noted that Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Yet, she declared, “our cause is right.”
“But we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans,” she added.
I’m no political pundit – although I do frequently tell politicians what to do. But, from where I sit, I’ll offer Haley and other Republicans a bit of unsolicited advice.
Instead of suggesting that voters aren’t hearing them or that voters have the wrong priorities, Republicans should examine their own “cause.”
Nationwide and in Maine, too many Republicans, who like to tout their love of a vague notion of “freedom,” have made the diminishment of the rights of others a priority. For example, they seek to limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans, and to cruelly legislate transgender people out of existence. Yet, polls show that Americans strongly support legal protections for LGBTQ people, including marriage equality.
Republicans across the country are working to severely limit abortion, forcing women to endanger their health, and fetuses to suffer. Yet, Americans strongly support reproductive rights.
While Republicans, including Joel Stetkis, the new head of the Maine GOP, rail against schools for focusing on “the woke agenda, pronouns and critical race theory-geared agendas,” these are not the top concerns of most parents. A recent poll – yes, it was conducted by a teacher’s union – found that two-thirds of parents were not concerned about their children being indoctrinated by a “woke agenda” or about the teaching of “critical race theory.” Instead, the parents surveyed said they were more concerned about schools providing a safe and welcoming environment for all students.
As some Republicans seek to honor guns and killers, the vast majority of Americans strongly support some additional restrictions on guns.
Republicans continue to seek ways to make it harder to vote rather than adopting policies to draw more voters, especially young voters, to their candidates.
Of course, not all laws should be based on public opinion, but there is clear evidence that many Republican priorities, while popular within their own party, are out of step with what the majority of Americans want and believe.
The reason Republicans have lost many recent presidential elections, along with legislative and gubernatorial elections in Maine, isn’t because people aren’t hearing their message. Voters are hearing them loud and clear, and choosing not to vote for them.