Why is "sensible" Jeb Bush fundraising for nutty Paul LePage?

The Maine governor seems to embody everything Bush criticizes about his own party

By Alex Seitz-Wald
Published July 2, 2013 4:00PM (EDT)
Jeb Bush                          (Reuters/David Manning)
Jeb Bush (Reuters/David Manning)

Much has been made about Jeb Bush being perhaps too moderate for the GOP, thanks to his willingness to criticize the party's right flank on immigration and rhetoric. "It's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective," Bush said last year after one of his party's presidential primary debates.

So it's surprising to see that Bush is hosting a fundraiser for Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage today in Kennebunkport, the tony seaside town where George H.W. Bush has long kept a summer estate.

LePage, who rode the Tea Party wave in 2010 to eek out a narrow victory with just 38 percent of the vote, is best known for the kind of gaffe-prone rhetoric that Bush has decried. There was his egregious violation of Godwin's Law when he said the IRS "is not quite as bad - yet" as "the Holocaust;" the time he threatened to punch a reporter; or time he told the NAACP to "kiss my butt."

On immigration and education, Bush's two signature items, LePage has touted how a private school was able to bring up its math scores "because they bring kids from Asia."

Jeb Bush may be the GOP's best hope on climate change, but five days ago, LePage vetoed a bill to authorize a long-term study of how climate change will impact Maine. And he blacklisted three newspapers after they published a series of articles exposing possible corruption in the Department of Environmental Protection.

Things have gotten so bad that one of the state's top Republican lawmakers wrote an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald last Wednesday saying that he was "embarrassed" by LePage. “To me and many others, it is once again the unfortunate tone being set by our chief executive,” Assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz wrote about LePage's latest gaffe, involving Vaseline and a rape joke. “His use of vulgarity and schoolyard taunts to demean his Democratic opponents. His failure to offer real apology. And then his insulting of Republican legislators who choose to disagree with him."

Last year, with his approval rating underwater, Republican candidates refused to campaign with the governor. PPP's last poll of the state from January had LePage's approval rating at negative 16 points, with 39 percent approving and 55 percent disapproving.

Of course, this is politics. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the state's two long-serving moderate Republican senators (Snowe retired last year), are co-hosting the event. But Collins and Snowe are more or less obligated to do so thanks to geography and party loyalty. Why Bush is there is less clear. Maine is, coincidentally, fairly early in the presidential nominating calendar.

Alex Seitz-Wald

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