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March 01, 2012 10:30 AM Olympia Snowe’s Tea-Party-Induced Surrender

By Jesse Singal

This New York Times piece about Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire from the Senate paints a picture of a lawmaker who got absolutely shellacked by the unleashing of Tea Party forces within Congress:

The vote [on the Blunt amendment] set for Thursday, framed as a choice between contraceptive coverage and religious freedom, was not the reason Ms. Snowe made her announcement, she said. Her retirement decision was bigger than any one vote. But people familiar with her thinking say the re-emergence of such hot-button social issues helped nudge her to the exit.
Georgia Chomas, a cousin of the senator who described herself as more like a sister, said social conservatives and Tea Party activists in Maine were hounding her at home, while party leaders in Washington had her hemmed in and steered the legislative agenda away from the matters she cared about.
“There was a constant, constant struggle to accommodate everyone, and a lot of pressure on her from the extreme right,” Ms. Chomas said from her real estate office in Auburn, Me. “And she just can’t go there.”

Mike Castle, a former moderate Republican House member from Delaware and a friend of Ms. Snowe and her husband, expressed a similar view.

“All of a sudden we’re talking about abortion. We’re talking about contraception. We’re talking about social issues that were not that big a deal,” said Mr. Castle, who lost his 2010 Senate bid to a Tea Party insurgency during the primary.

Thin comfort, maybe, but I think it’s going to be harder and harder to get people riled up about these sorts ofissues as the major demographic shifts reshaping our politics continue to unspool.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.

Comments

  • stormskies on March 01, 2012 10:50 AM:

    I can only hope that once the Democrats sustain their majority in the next election that, at that point, Senator Reid will finally change the rules of the Senate so that the paralyzing affect of the existing Senate rules essentially allows the minority to control the majority. He had a chance to do that two years ago and didn't. He is in fact responsible for the paralyzing gridlock we now have.

    So let's just hope that he can do the right thing next time around.

  • SteveT on March 01, 2012 10:58 AM:

    If Sen. Snowe has any integrity left, she will endorse the Democratic opponent of whichever teabagger the Republicans nominate to replace her.

    But I realize that's a pretty big "if".

  • Danp on March 01, 2012 11:00 AM:

    and steered the legislative agenda away from the matters she cared about.

    Like what? Seriously. She always seems to be portrayed as the moderate being forced to the right. But what did she ever care about? Did she ever have any more of a backbone than Romney?

  • rk on March 01, 2012 11:03 AM:

    "All of a sudden we're talking about abortion. We're talking about contraception. We're talking about social issues that were not that big a deal," said Mr. Castle,
    These issues are actually a very big deal. What Snowe and Castle don't seem to understand is that these issues are important, that there is no compromise to be had with people who consider contraception to be murder, and that as elected representatives they need to take a position and live with it. Their problem isn't the issues, its that they are afraid to confront their party's base.
  • Trollop on March 01, 2012 11:06 AM:

    What's this?! A Republican Senator forced out by right-wing radicals? A Republican (with a conscience?) leaving a position after her party became radicalized by the idiots that they themselves spawned, nurtured and fed lines like "death panels" and "Kenyan Zulu Socialist"?? Oh.. noes...

    Bye Olympia, next time stick to your supposed principles from the get-go and you may still fall, but maybe with some dignity and conviction too.

  • just bill on March 01, 2012 11:11 AM:

  • Marko on March 01, 2012 11:11 AM:

    Georgia Chomas, a cousin of the senator who described herself as more like a sister, said social conservatives and Tea Party activists in Maine were hounding her at home, while party leaders in Washington had her hemmed in and steered the legislative agenda away from the matters she cared about.

    That's OK, Cynthia. There's still one more female/moderate/republican/senator from Maine.

  • just bill on March 01, 2012 11:15 AM:

    ooooo, that's not what i meant. sorry. not enough coffee yet.

  • Steve LaBonne on March 01, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Good riddance to a thoroughly useless politician, who has always talked moderate but in practice enabled the wingnuts. Meanwhile her equally useless colleague Collins is about to vote for the Blunt amendment.

  • Stetson Kennedy on March 01, 2012 11:37 AM:

    I don't know why she didn't simply run as a Democrat. She's better than, say, Ben Nelson.

  • Barbara on March 01, 2012 12:03 PM:

    Actually, I kind of hope that people do get riled up -- that is, riled up when members of Congress are intent on using the tax code provisions on employee benefits to turn their constituents into conscience slaves of their paymasters. This is just a revolting provision.

  • DRF on March 01, 2012 12:06 PM:

    On a personal level, I suppose I can muster up some sympathy for Snowe. However, as a number of commenters have noted, her voting record, particularly during the Obama Administration period, has been anything but moderate. Aside from her vote in favor of the stimulus bill, she has not only voted against every major piece of legislation sponsored by the Administration, but she has also voted to filibuster on most of them. The dance she led on the health care bill---voting for it and then against it--was appalling, particularly since it seemed evident that her final vote against was a purely partisan vote rather than on the merits.

    Everything that I've read about Snowe in recent months is that there was no expectation that she would face a serious challenge in the primary. Either that is incorrect, or she really is fed up. In either case, her official statement is less than candid. It makes it sound as though the increasing rancor and partisanship that she complains of is coming from both sides. In fact, taking this in context, it's pretty clear that the unpleasantness she has been experiencing is all intra-party. Not exactly a profile in courage.

  • howard on March 01, 2012 12:44 PM:

    i want to join in with those who say that while it's not impossible that snowe agonized privately over some of her votes, the fact remains that when she actually cast her vote, 99% of the time it was for whatever mitch mcconnell wanted.

    so i can't imagine why i shouldn't feel anything but relief that a hard-line gop senate vote might flip: the hell with snowe, who is a gigantic phony in my estimation.

  • berttheclock on March 01, 2012 12:59 PM:

    However, she did stand tall and helped the 51-48 vote to kill the Blount amendment. Bob Casey, Manchin and Ben Nelson did not and voted with Collins and the Republicans in their losing effort.

  • bob h on March 01, 2012 1:05 PM:

    Why did she feel compelled to stay a Republican? Maine is a Democratic state, and she could have become a right-of-center Democrat.

    After she voted for the stimulus, Republican Senators reportedly refused to speak to her. Mean girl Republicanism.

  • Steve LaBonne on March 01, 2012 3:11 PM:

    "However, she did stand tall..."

    Not impressed given that she's retiring. If she were running you can bet your life she'd have toed the party line.