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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Collins Advocacy for Sessions a Marker for the End of Republican ‘Centrists’

It’s been a long time since “moderate” Republicans had significant influence in their party, which is now an instrument for the worst policies of the right-wing ideologues who currently dominate the GOP’s inner councils.

Those who have lived long enough can remember a time when Republicans like Sens. Javitz, Weicker, and Governor Rockefeller actually played leadership roles in defending and promoting civil rights and needed social programs. But, one by one, RINOs, Gypsy Moths, Rockefeller, Ripon and other moderate Republicans have become extinct.

Those who were holding on to the fading hope that, somehow the centrist Republican would rise again as a force in the GOP, now must face the fact that the most prominent of remaining ‘moderate’ Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins, has abandoned all pretense to carry water for one of the Senate’s most relentless opponents of racial justice, Jeff Sessions. OK, Collins hasn’t been a genuine moderate for a long time. But now she is making a big show of her defection. At The Nation, John Nichols writes,

Thirty years ago, moderate Republicans upheld the basic standards to which presidential nominees must be held. But not anymore. So-called “moderate” Republican Susan Collins abandoned that standard on Tuesday and championed President Trump’s nomination of Sessions to serve as attorney general of the United States.

Because of some past breaks with party orthodoxy, particularly on social issues, Maine’s Senator Collins is still imagined by casual observers of the Senate to be a “moderate Republican.” It’s an image that Collins has fostered over the years, as she has sought to retain a Senate seat representing a New England state that regularly backs Democrats for the presidency.

This false yet lingering impression that Collins is a “moderate” made her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee one of the major moments of the first day of hearings on the Sessions nomination. Collins was portrayed in media reports as an “unlikely ally” of her fellow senator. In fact, she appeared before the committee as an ardent partisan, supporting a Republican president-elect’s most controversial Cabinet pick—and doing her best to dismiss credible criticisms of the nominee.

Nichols notes that “Collins’s offices in Portland and Bangor were packed with protesters this morning,” Maine Public Radio reported Tuesday morning. “They are calling on Collins to withdraw her support for Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator Donald Trump has nominated for U.S. Attorney General.” Nichols quotes Maine State Representative Diane Russell, who said, “Senator Collins is leading the fight to confirm the most racist, homophobic, anti-woman, anti-immigrant person we could possible imagine to be the defender of the U.S. Constitution.”

Nichols acknowledges that “Susan Collins has never been so outspoken or effective a dissenter as former Maine Republican senators such as Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe,” two of the most admired Republican moderates of the Senate’s history. But in recent times, Collins was regarded as one of the more ‘centrist’ Republicans in the distorted context of the GOP’s tea party era.

That illusion is now shattered, as Collins lends her rep to help one of the most retrogressive Attorney General nominees ever. Republicans hoping for a resurgence of moderate leadership in their party will have to look elsewhere, and the pickings are growing slimmer every day. It’s unclear whether Collins intends to run again for Senate or, perhaps Governor. If so, her support of Sessions may prove to be the decision that sank her prospects with Maine voters who are concerned about human rights.

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