“Collins has placed her own political survival over any true leader’s moral obligation to speak out when, no understatement, the future of the republic is in peril.”


In a new column in the Portland Press Herald, Bill Nemitz examines Senator Susan Collins’ craven political calculation to not answer honestly about her support for Donald Trump, and how her silence shows she’s put her own political fortunes ahead of her obligations as a leader.


In Friday’s debate, Senator Collins refused to answer a direct question about her presidential support continuing her 637 day streak of dodging that exact question. As Nemitz details, Collins’ dependence on Trump has left her “terrified to confront” him head on.


Portland Press Herald: Bill Nemitz: It’s now official – Donald Trump owns Maine Sen. Susan Collins


By Bill Nemitz

September 13, 2020


Key Points: 


  • In his new book, “Rage,” journalist Bob Woodward showers us with fresh details about the walking train wreck that is Donald Trump. But, as reported Thursday in a Washington Post book review, one tidbit stands out.


  • “Want to know something?” Trump asks Woodward at one point during their 18 taped interviews. “Everything’s mine. You know, everything is mine.”


  • Including, we now can conclude, Maine Sen. Susan Collins.


  • Save your breath, Collins supporters. I’m not talking about how many times – relative few that they may be – Collins has parted ways with the president on votes that did nothing to change the downward spiral into which Trump has steered an entire nation.


  • No, Trump owns Collins in a much more insidious way.


  • He owns her silence.


  • Still, a couple of exchanges between Republican Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon crystallized what makes this election like no other in recent memory: It is, when it’s all said and done, a referendum on Trump.


  • Yes, there’s the pandemic. And yes, we have violence in the streets sparked by the killing of Black citizens by police. And with the pandemic’s paralysis, the economy continues to tank.


  • But all of those roads lead inevitably back to Trump’s glaring inability, or unwillingness, to lead at a time when leadership matters most. Hope, intelligence, morality, courage – take your pick. They’ve all been swallowed up by the black hole that the White House, the people’s house, has become over the past three-and-a-half brutally long years.


  • So, Trump’s performance isn’t just another issue. Ultimately, it’s the only issue. And Collins, who for months has reflexively deflected when asked whether she supports the president’s bid for re-election, knows it.


  • As does Gideon, who tried more than once Friday evening to pin Collins down on the one thing the Republican incumbent seems terrified to confront head-on.


  • Speaking early on about Trump’s tacit admission to Woodward that he lied about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gideon concluded, “So, I want to ask Senator Collins who she thinks should be leading this country. She has neglected to answer that question and I’d like to give her the opportunity tonight.”


  • Responded Collins to moderator Pat Callaghan, “Well, Pat, let me say this. I don’t think the people of Maine need my advice on whom do support for president.”


  • Oh really? Why, then, did Collins take to the op-ed pages of The Washington Post four years ago to announce she could not support then-candidate Trump because she found him “unworthy” of occupying the Oval office? If she considered it so important back then to share her opinion not just with Maine, but with the entire country, why not now?


  • Collins went on to say that throughout her recent bus tour around Maine, “not a single person asked me who should be our next president.”


  • Assuming that’s true, it tells us a lot more about the insularity of Collins’ carefully choreographed campaign than it does the mindset of the electorate with Nov. 3 just over seven weeks away. Nobody’s talking about Trump? On exactly which planet is Maine’s senior senator campaigning?


  • Later in the debate, addressing the need for police reform in the wake of violence in America’s streets, Gideon bore down once again.


  • “We also need real leadership,” she said. “And I think that is why people keep asking Senator Collins who she thinks should be leading this country. It’s not that Mainers are looking for advice about who to vote for, it’s that they want to know who their senator thinks should be leading us.”


  • Collins could have asked for a moment to respond. Instead, while the debate moved on to Linn, she said nothing – her silence speaking volumes about the shell of a political leader she has become.


  • The maddening part of this never-ending game of hide-and-seek is its utter transparency.


  • Collins could burnish her name for posterity by doing exactly what she did back in 2016, when she never dreamed Trump would actually win the presidency. But rather than perform an act of true bravery, she’s now mired in political calculus.


  • The moderate middle, upon which Collins has relied so heavily in past elections, has eroded before her eyes – due in no small part to her vote for the 2017 Republican tax giveaway to the rich and her 2018 vote to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Thus, her approval ratings have plummeted from as high as 78 percent in happier times to just 37 percent last spring.


  • That makes Collins’ support from Maine Republicans – a decidedly pro-Trump group these days – all the more critical to her hopes for a fifth term on Capitol Hill. Condemn Trump for (fill in the blank) and thus earn top billing in his early-morning Twitter tirade, she can kiss her political future goodbye.


  • Put more simply, Collins has placed her own political survival over any true leader’s moral obligation to speak out when, no understatement, the future of the republic is in peril.


  • Collins still has a chance, political fortunes be damned, to at least answer the question: Does she or does she not support Trump serving another term?


  • Once again, it’s not just an important question. In this year of all things Trump, it is the question.


  • Collins owes Maine a clear, yes-or-no answer. But until she provides one, make no mistake about it: She’s running for her political life with a hand over her mouth.