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The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins

It was back in October 2018 — after Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced her tie-breaking vote to confirm now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — when the national Left announced its intention: to bury the senior Senator from Maine with an unprecedented tsunami of outside money and negative advertising during the run-up to her bid for a historic fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

From Pennsylvania, I watched with more than a pang of sadness as Collins, an early advocate for LGBT people like myself within the Republican Party, faced many of the corrosive trends that have taken hold of our body politic: the nationalization of everything, the endless litmus tests imposed on elected official (particularly those on the Right), and the bifurcation of our two major parties into warring tribes.

Still, Collins — consistently ranked as the most moderate member of the Senate — trod on, as one does, in the face of an eye-popping $60 million-plus in outside spending, a charismatic and young opponent in a blue-ing state (who promised to make the race a referendum on Collins’s vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh), and a slew of horrific polls and negative media coverage portraying her as a dead woman walking.

Only Collins herself insisted she had the inside route to winning.

Politico’s Burgess Everett covered the race in early October, with a fascinating look at a Senator — whose prior races had been sleepy affairs with significant support from Democrats and Independents — on the brink. “It’s very frustrating because [my opposition is] backed by so much money,” Collins said at the time, feeling, understandably, underwater. “And it’s been going on for two years now: Non-stop negative ads. That eventually it pulls you down… What’s amazing” — and here’s the remarkable commentary from a woman down double-digits in many polls — “is that I’m still going to win.”

At the end of the day, Collins won big — an enormous rout for Republicans worried about a Democratic takeover of both chambers of Congress, and a victory for moderate politics, ticket-splitting and old-school dealmakers.

In the end, the race, which was supposed to be a lay-up for Collins’s opponent, wasn’t really close. In fact, the margin of her victory was almost ten percentage points — a more distant result than that in Minnesota or New Mexico, two Democratic-leaning Senate races which received almost no national political attention.

Collins also outran the Trump-Biden spread by an astounding 18 points (she ran seven points ahead of Trump statewide, while her opponent ran eleven points behind Biden), garnering more ticket splitters than any other Senator in the nation. She outran Trump by 12 points in Vacationland’s more left-leaning, downstate First Congressional District.

Mainers gave their mandate to Joe Biden, to two Democrats in the U.S. House — and to Collins, the villain of the national left, but evidently the favored choice for many of the left-leaning constituents she will represent in the Senate once again.

The Northeast used to be dominated by elected officials like Collins, among them the “Rockefeller Republicans” — moderate, sensible, and even genteel, this breed has all but died out. In my home state of Pennsylvania, moderate Republican Charlie Dent packed his bags and ceded his his swingy Lehigh Valley U.S. House seat to the Democrats in 2018, drowned out, perhaps, in the era of Trump. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, a wonky conservative with a penchant for dealmaking, told me that Collins’s “work ethic, accomplishments and dedication to her constituents should serve as an example for every member of Congress.” Toomey has announced he is not running for reelection in 2022.

Which leaves Susan Collins in a rare group of politicians in the Senate: mild-mannered, results-oriented, and committed to working across the aisle no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Is she merely an example of a dying breed — a moderate Republican committed to compromise and serious legislation, while so many elected officials are content to throw bombs on Twitter and cable news? Or could she represent something more: a politician who can break through America’s seemingly ever-increasing gridlock and vitriol — and win in doing so?

Collins is either a dinosaur from a bygone era, the last of a bloodline that will be extinguished after her expected final term in the U.S. Senate — or her unexpected victory could herald something different, at the very nadir of American bipartisanship and legislative accomplishment: a path forward for pragmatic, problem-solving elected officials who can cut through the noise and get things done — and win elections based on localism and accomplishments, not bombast.

Albert Eisenberg is a Philadelphia-based conservative commentator and political consultant who works on LGBT and urban issues from the right and is co-founder of Broad+Liberty. He formerly served as communications director for the Philadelphia Republican Party. Follow him on Twitter @Albydelphia

 

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Charlie Dent congressional gridlock Joe Biden Maine moderate Democrats moderate Republicans moderates Pat Toomey political polarization Politics of the United States problem solving Republican Party Rockefeller Republican Susan Collins

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