NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE W hat if I told you that the woman rated the single most bipartisan U.S. senator for the last seven years in a row is vying for reelection? What if this same senator provided crucial votes of support for both of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, won an award from Planned Parenthood in 2017, voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, and is endorsed by a sitting Democratic colleague?
Sounds like someone progressives would rally behind, right?
You see, this exercise isn’t theoretical. The woman described above is Susan Collins, and because she happens to be a Republican, she’s faced months of vicious, fact-free attacks from progressives happy to make her collateral damage in their crusade against President Trump.
Collins is a reliable supporter of abortion and LGBTQ rights. But the same Planned Parenthood that called her “an outspoken champion for women’s health” less than three years ago now says that she has “turned her back on those she should be championing.” The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group that enjoys a similarly tight relationship with the Democratic Party, endorsed Collins in 2014 and gave her a score of 85 percent in the past two sessions of Congress; now, it’s supporting her opponent and has given her a score of 33 percent.
The Lincoln Project, that group of former Republican insiders hell-bent on defeating Trump, has hit Collins with $1.3 million in attack ads, labeling her a “Trump stooge” and perpetuating sexist claims that the president and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) “control her voice.” Never mind the fact that Collins has voted with Trump less than 50 percent of the time during the 116th Congress.
An unflinching moderate in an era of increasing political extremes, Collins has critics on the right and left. And having cast more than 7,000 consecutive votes without an absence, she has a long track record for those critics to pick apart. For pro-life conservatives like myself, the bone to pick with Collins may be her opposition to expanded protections for the unborn. For progressives, it may be her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, taken only after she bucked Senate Republican leaders by successfully pushing for an additional FBI investigation that failed to corroborate any of the claims against him.
Collins has made a career of such unorthodox stands, so it is no surprise that her reelection bid has become a referendum on the degree to which we are willing to represent differences of opinion honestly, and judge policymakers by the actual votes they cast rather than the party to which they belong.
It is here that the unserious bomb throwers at the Lincoln Project and the Human Rights Campaign disqualify themselves. Yes, after careful deliberation, Collins voted earlier this year against removing the duly elected president of the United States from office, just as she did with President Clinton in 1999. But even if she hadn’t also withheld her support from Trump’s reelection bid, she’d still possess a record of bipartisanship spanning more than two decades. Those who claim otherwise reveal more about their politics than hers.
When disgruntled former Republicans label Collins a “Trump stooge” despite the fact that she’s defied the president on more than half of all recent votes, it serves as a reminder of the double standard that women in politics still face. When an organization that purports to fight for LGBTQ rights rejects the candidacy of the landmark Equality Act’s lone Senate Republican cosponsor, it shows just how toxic politics has become on both ends of our political spectrum.
Thankfully, none of these outside groups will have the last word on Collins’s political fate. That honor will go to the same Mainers who returned her to the Senate in 2014 with more than 68 percent of the vote. Collins hasn’t changed since then, but the political landscape obviously has. Such independent leaders are sorely needed in Washington right now. Here’s hoping her constituents feel the same.