DAVID FARMER

GOP pays for politics of division

David Farmer
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Posted May 09, 2012, at 4:13 p.m.

When you build your political party on fear, division and ideology trumping reason, you can’t be surprised when things go crazy.

Republican leaders are now reaping what they have sown and the more extreme and fringe members of their party have taken control.

Make no mistake: Ron Paul, the plainspoken doctor and congressman, is extreme. His views on economics, minorities and federal authority are well outside the mainstream and in some cases downright hateful and deeply flawed.

His opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his “leave me the hell alone” approach appeal to the young and the libertarian leaning, but his views go well beyond what most people would ever put their name to.

His supporters, and there are many of them, are devotional in their commitment to him and that passion leads to the mayhem last weekend at the Republican convention.

While other members of the Republican Party were having breakfast or making a quick trip to the dump, they were lined up and poised to take over.

They dominated the convention and put the interests of their dead-in-the-water candidate ahead of all else: party rules, the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate who were desperate for a chance to talk to party faithful and introduce themselves and ultimately the fate of the Republican presidential nominee in the fall.

It would be easy to talk about the failure of Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign to fully engage in the Maine Republican Convention, allowing Paul’s people to slip away with the delegates.

But such a shift in blame misstates the real dynamic. I firmly believe the majority of Republicans in Maine prefer Romney to Paul. But they couldn’t match the intensity of the minority, motivated by deeply held fears and uncertainty and the willingness to do whatever it took to capture the convention prize.

It’s that same willingness to dispense with the rules — and the consequences — that has been at the core of Gov. Paul LePage’s strategy.

Using fear, appealing to the worst of human nature, dividing Maine into “us” and “them” and then relentlessly attacking “them,” Gov. LePage has pushed an extreme, ideological agenda.

He rode the train of division to power and he has stayed on it through two legislative sessions.

In the coming days, the evidence will become apparent as the Legislature tries to find a path forward with a budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gov. LePage has handed the Legislature his wish list. It remains to be seen how closely they will ultimately adhere to his master plan.

But the fate of thousands of people — children, the elderly, people with disabilities and working families — are at risk.

The governor has shown himself willing to continue down a path that not only enrages Democrats and isolates independents, but one that also alienates the more moderate and reasonable members of his own party.

Like Paul’s supporters at the convention, LePage is unconcerned with the consequences of his actions. He is single-minded in his pursuit of a dangerous and ideological agenda.

The results, however, will ripple through communities across Maine, driving families on the edge deeper into poverty and pulling away a chance at stability for those working their way up.

And they will ripple through electoral politics. But it won’t be LePage who carries the burden, just as it won’t be Paul who pays the price for the shenanigans at the convention.

It will be the Republicans on the ballot this fall.

In Maine’s cities and towns, new Republican legislators will be forced to defend actions that denied vital resources to their communities. They’ll have to stand on front porches and try to explain to voters why their mother or grandmother no longer receives the medical care she needs or why the family down the street couldn’t afford to stay in their home.

And it will be Mitt Romney who is forced to try to unify a party that is in the thrall of its most extreme elements. When Paul’s bid fails — and it surely will — can the bad blood born among Republicans in places such as Augusta be healed?

Republicans faced a tough road to electoral success this year without extra hurdles to clear.

But the divisiveness that helped Republicans to grab power in Maine and around the country in 2010 is coming home to roost this year.

And being divided is no way to win an election — just ask us Democrats.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.

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