I’m trying to talk to myself into believing this is strategy on the president’s part, mindful of the fact that he’s doesn’t really do “strategy” when he’s attacking people. He has impulses, and sometimes those impulses align with what strategy would call for under the circumstances.
And sometimes they do not.
In this case, I suspect he took an earnest swing at Collins and ended up hitting her Democratic opponent instead:
There is a nasty rumor out there that @SenatorCollins of Maine will not be supporting our great United States Supreme Court Nominee. Well, she didn’t support Healthcare or my opening up 5000 square miles of Ocean to Maine, so why should this be any different. Not worth the work!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2020
It’s not a “rumor” that Collins is voting against Barrett. She confirmed it a few days ago, saying, “It’s not a comment on her. It is a comment on the process of rushing through a nomination in such a short time before a presidential election.” Collins is scrambling to try to atone to Maine’s centrist voters for the two biggest votes she cast during Trump’s presidency, one to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and the other to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial. She had no choice but to vote the way she did in both cases, as the Republican base considered each an acid test of partisan loyalty.
But now she has “Trump stink” on her, to borrow a term that’s in the news elsewhere today, and she’s on the ballot next month in a bluish state that doesn’t care for that fragrance. Declining to vote for Barrett on process grounds is her belatedly throwing a bone to the centrist Dems who’ve supported her in the past.
So here’s the president tweeting this morning at his base up in Maine that … maybe she failed the acid test after all, even though he doesn’t need Collins’s vote to get Barrett confirmed. McConnell has 51 lined up. Trump doesn’t need to pressure her to vote yes. He lashed out anyway because that’s what he does when he spies “disloyalty,” no matter how much loyalty you’ve shown him in the past. Just ask Bill Barr.
But maybe this works out for Collins anyway. If the goal is to get “Trump stink” off of her and refashion herself at the eleventh hour as a true independent, having the president loudly remind Mainers of how she’s crossed him on several issues isn’t necessarily a bad outcome. It depends on whether you think any Republicans in Maine will withhold their votes from her because Trump is suddenly annoyed at her. My guess is that they won’t. They’ll remember Kavanaugh and impeachment, and they’ll look at the polls in Maine and nationally and realize that the GOP needs every Senate seat it can muster to have leverage over policy next year. If I’m right about that, and if Trump’s tweet succeeds in convincing some centrists up there that Collins isn’t the loyal toady that Democrats have portrayed her as (a big if), then conceivably this tweet will do her more harm than good.
Jeff Greenfield had the same thought I did:
One of few senators who polls stronger than he does in her state, a fact he is aware of and it may not sit well. https://t.co/thMzFxN0Gn
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 16, 2020
I'm not saying this is tactical, but in 1970 VP Agnew attacked liberal GOP Senator Goodell; it drove just enough liberal voters to him to get Conservative Jim Buckley elected over Democrat Ottinger. Might Trump's hit on Collins drive some voters TO her? https://t.co/PUryIRM6uW
— Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64) October 16, 2020
If you think this was all eight-dimensional chess on Trump’s part, though, rather than another case of him firing blindly at Collins and possibly hitting her opponent instead, explain the last line of his tweet. “Not worth the work” sounds like he’s saying it’s not worth the effort for Maine Republicans to try to reelect her. That’s not what you’d say if you were playing a game here aimed at making centrists like her more. It’s what you’d say if you were sincerely angry at her for letting you down on the Barrett vote and lashing out without thinking.
Oh well. You knew damn well he was a snake before you brought him in, Susan.
An interesting point here on Collins’s possibly too-clever-by-half position on Barrett:
Morning Consult polling PRE-HEARING on ACB: 48-31 confirm
even before the scandal, Kavanaugh's pre-hearing numbers topped out at 37-29. And went well below afterwards.
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 16, 2020
Remember: the most notable losers in 2016 were the R senators who tried to have it both ways on Trump. (Ayotte and Heck).
Once you go Trump, there's no halfway measure back.
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 16, 2020
All of that’s fine, but Collins would never have been forgiven if she had opposed Kavanaugh. That was about far more than a SCOTUS seat by the time it was over. Remember, despite its blue tilt, Maine is the state that elected proto-Trump Paul LePage governor (twice!). Collins quite reasonably feared that if she had balked on Kavanaugh, the Trump/LePage part of the base would have held a grudge forever, even if she cast a meaningless vote for Barrett now.
In spite of everything, the polls in Maine are still close, although the last one published had Democrat Sara Gideon up seven. The good news is that there are still a lot of undecideds there; the bad news is that Collins seems to be stuck at around 42 percent in most polls, and undecideds tend to break for challengers in the end. More ominously, Gideon just had the second-biggest fundraising quarter for a Senate candidate in U.S. history, bringing in $39.4 million between July and September. For perspective, Collins raised just $8.3 million — and that was Collins’s biggest fundraising quarter ever. Gideon even outraised Beto O’Rourke at the peak of Betomania two years ago; the only candidate to ever take in more in a quarter is Lindsey Graham’s opponent Jaime Harrison, who pulled in a Biblical $57 million this past summer. Democrats really, really, really want to beat Graham for being such an obnoxious Trump sycophant, but they really, really want to oust Collins too for her shtick of being forever “concerned” about things Trump does and then always voting the way he wants in a big spot anyway. We’ll see if it works out for them.