BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins didn’t mince words when asked about the divisive climate of the 2016 presidential race during an appearance Tuesday night at Husson University’s Gracie Theater.
“I actually would be happier to go into hibernation,” the Republican from Bangor said, drawing laughter and applause from those who attended the first installment of the “Dirigo Speaks” series for seniors being presented by AARP and the Bangor Daily News.
“Since that’s unlikely, this has been the worst political climate that I have ever seen and the most disappointing presidential race that I have ever seen,” Collins said.
“The polarization and politicalization of every issue, the insults and the misleading, the flaws of both candidates are very discouraging” she said.
“What worries me is in order for us to solve the very real problems in a democratic way — the state of our economy, terrorism — the problems have never been more serious, and then look at the debates,” she said. “They’re depressing, they really are, and I think it’s a disservice to our country.”
Collins acknowledged that she has had to make some tough decisions, given the state of the presidential campaign.
“It was a very hard decision for me as a lifelong Republican who has always supported our party’s nominee to decide last August that I simply could not support Donald Trump for president,” which she wrote about i n an op-ed piece published in The Washington Pos t.
Collins said there were three major incidents that tipped her over the edge — the first being Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter. The second was when Trump said the judge who was hearing the Trump University case could not rule in an unbiased manner because he is of Mexican-American heritage.
“This judge was born in Indiana. He’s just as American as Donald Trump. And he is a very well-regarded federal judge who actually took on the Mexican drug cartels, by the way, at great danger to himself when he was a prosecutor earlier in his career,” Collins said.
“But the third and really the tipping point for me was when Donald Trump attacked and insulted the Gold Star parents who lost their son in Iraq,” she said. “I just can’t imagine having no empathy for grieving parents, and that just tipped me over the edge.”
Despite that, she said, she could not vote for Hillary Clinton.
“So I feel in a terrible dilemma this year. And I can’t vote for Gary Johnson, either,” she said.
Collins, however, said she does not believe the Republican Party is imploding, even though Trump is its candidate.
“I know that emotions are running really high in this election and I’m going to continue to work with the governor, with the staff, with the administration on the issues that are important to me and to Maine people. That’s my job and that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.
“The party’s going to be just fine. I’m working hard to retain a Republican-controlled Senate, and I believe that people can distinguish between Donald Trump and [Republican senators seeking election next month] like Kelly Ayotte [of New Hampshire], [Ohio’s U.S. Rep.] Rob Portman or Pat Toomey [U.S. senator from Pennsylvania], for example. I think it’s important, no matter who is elected president, that there be a Republican Senate as a check on that person’s power,” she said.
During Tuesday’s event, Collins, chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, also discussed her work in such areas as seniors’ financial security, what’s being done to address price gouging by drug manufacturers and the need to increase funding for biomedical research for such ailments as Alzheimer’s disease.