GOP should learn from mistakes that began in 2010

We’ve seen this movie before.

A bumbling political outsider with inchoate political views, leveraging the anger of the day to remake himself into a “lifelong conservative.” A businessman who’ll run government like a successful company, but who assembles a campaign team that can’t successfully execute the simplest tasks. A terrible public speaker with a loose concern for facts and a propensity for foolish statements that land him, and Maine, in the national headlines.

Maine Republicans, we’ve been down this road once. Let’s not do it again.

When Paul LePage announced his candidacy for governor in late 2009, no one thought he would be our nominee. LePage’s lack of qualification for the office was apparent immediately, through his penchant for lying, his caustic demeanor, and his general lack of organizational skills.

But we nominated him anyway. And he spent the next eight years decimating the Maine Republican Party, driving good people out and welcoming the worst elements in. The dispirited Maine GOP is on life support right now, battered by near-weekly revelations of misconduct and basic moral failures. The same party that produced Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins now stands proudly behind racists, demagogues, and liars.

The party is deeply tainted because of LePage’s legacy of divisiveness and dishonesty.

Fortunately, we have a chance to rebuild this year, and put this embarrassing period behind us, when we nominate LePage’s replacement.

But not if that replacement is Shawn Moody.

Gorham businessman Shawn Moody stands on stage at his auto body shop in November as he announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Moody is the second-coming of LePage, the allegedly straight-talking businessman who will whip Maine’s government into shape and make our state as successful as his auto repair garages. LePage’s campaign team is remaking Moody in his image. He’s gone from being a proud independent to being sold as an anti-immigration, “lifelong conservative” who will appeal to the angry fringe of the GOP primary electorate.

Just like LePage, we are seeing the signs right out of the gate that he is a dishonest person. And the lesson we’ve learned from LePage is that a dishonest person in a campaign will be a dishonest person in elected office.

Ask Moody any question and watch as this supposed straight-talker twists himself in rhetorical knots in order to avoid a straight answer.

His campaign is claiming he is pro-life, when his previous campaign claimed he was pro-choice. Moody says he is  “personally pro-life,” but mumbles the barely-audible fine print that suggests he wouldn’t do anything to interfere with a woman’s right to choose: “I’m a man, I’m not going to make a decision on that myself.”

This, of course, is a nonsense position. You can’t claim to be pro-life if you believe government should allow abortions. And who isn’t “personally pro-life”? No one enjoys the practice of abortion. The pro-choice and pro-life labels are specifically meant to delineate which candidates will allow women the right to choose if they are elected and which ones will press to restrict this right.

If a candidate can’t answer this basic question without spinning themselves into a tangled yarn ball, it means they are trying not to tell you the truth.

Moody has choked on his answers to questions about gun rights as well. He refused to answer a simple questionnaire from the Portland Press Herald about restrictions on gun ownership, the only candidate on either side of the aisle to do so. In typical Team LePage fashion, he blamed the “bias” of the newspaper, falsely claimed he was being censored, and then went on the radio and spent a whole segment refusing to answer the questions again.

Why can’t Moody simply answer the questions?

Moody’s true political leanings are a mystery as well. His campaign is calling him a “lifelong common-sense conservative,” but his 2010 campaign website made the definitive statement, “I am not a conservative.”

Moody’s claim to be a lifelong conservative comes into even further question when his campaign donations are reviewed. Moody made a maximum contribution to Democratic state senate candidate Ted Kauffman, who ran to replace GOP Sen. Brian Langley, as recently as 2016. In 2014, he donated to Bonnie Lewis, a Democratic House candidate running against GOP Rep. Sue Austin. Not exactly indicators of a faithful Republican.

We’ve seen this story already. We’ve seen what happens when we elect a person who has no respect for the truth. It does not go well.

We should have seen LePage coming, and we should have fought harder to stop him before he was nominated. Now we face the same test again. Will our party continue to make excuses for lack of competence and dishonesty, or will we nominate someone to represent us who we can be proud of?

The Republican nominee for governor this year will determine the fate of our party for the next four years, and will define how we are judged as a group by our fellow Mainers. Let’s hope we’ve learned our lesson.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.