As goes Maine, so goes the nation, or so the saying goes. The suggestion is that Maine’s present is America’s future, a way of predicting behavior that paints Maine as a bellwether state. In fact, Maine is 7 for 10 at predicting the winner of the presidential election since 1976. It’s not an exact science, but it’s close enough so the catchy saying persists.
Of course, the idea that you can take the country’s temperature via Maine is somewhat silly. It’s the kind of thing Tim Russert might have alluded to during a long night of analyzing election results, a harmless folksy aphorism. Until now.
Enter Paul LePage, currently serving his second term as governor of Maine. His antics are well documented. The first time he was elected, the joke was on Democrats for not taking this rude non-candidate seriously. The second time he was elected the joke was on everyone, as even pragmatic Republicans have cooled to his divisive approach to governing and general lack of results.
LePage’s election as governor (twice) sets a precedent, namely that a candidate’s outlandish behavior that would seem to preclude election by one group, actually energizes and galvanizes another. Indeed, some voters supported LePage because of his controversial comments, not in spite of them.
So, if we’re to believe that saying, “as goes Maine, so goes the nation,” what does all this mean? It means you better start taking Donald Trump seriously.
Trump’s antics are also well documented. But the national media seems to be surprised that his poll numbers aren’t dropping with each new controversy. He currently leads Republican contenders in the polls, even as voters hear more about his controversial comments and actions. The fact is, it really doesn’t matter who he offends, what he does, or how ridiculous his hair looks, some people are just not negatively influenced by those factors.
On the contrary, as he riles perceived elitists with his rude behavior, he cements his outsider status. In an election boiling down to a Bush and a Clinton, anti-establishment status goes a long way. The only way to take the air out of Trump’s balloon is to limit that outsider street cred by showing him to be a wealthy real estate insider and part of the establishment. His potential supporters don’t care if he did or said something you consider to be rude or offensive. Instead, every time someone admonishes him for conduct unbecoming a president, his influence actually grows.
An anti-establishment candidate who’s dominating the media coverage with “controversial statements” might seem like a joke, but if Maine’s experience is any indication, even a joker can be king.