When asked if he would like to be Donald Trump’s Republican running mate, Maine Gov. Paul LePage said it would not happen. “We’re too much alike,” he said.
What he says is often highly controversial, but this time LePage may have provided a helpful view about what a Trump presidency would be like.
There are already striking similarities. Trump slashes his opponents with degrading insults, sometimes with racist overtones.
LePage promised to tell President Obama to “go to hell.” He called the IRS “the new Gestapo” for its role under the Affordable Care Act. And he quipped that one of his Democratic opponents wanted to “give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
Refusing to follow the precedent of attending the NAACP’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day breakfast, LePage said, “tell them to kiss my butt.”
Both resent the need for restraint, to be “politically correct.” When either Trump or LePage listens for the voice of the people, he seems to hear his own voice. Winning elections appears to equate with an almost divine right to lead.
Their shared sense of being above the limits of normal political speech may result from their having been business chiefs. With a compliant board, you may have a free hand in business, but government is different.
Trump would be likely to struggle with Congress, which sees itself as more than a board of directors, just as LePage has fought with the Maine Legislature, even with the state senate under the control of the GOP.
The result has been his record-setting number of vetoes. Just this year, LePage issued 32 vetoes, most of which were overridden by the Legislature. In rejecting one bill providing medication for drug addicts, he seemed to favor letting them die over giving them a chance to recover.
Last year, he issued one block of 65 vetoes, claiming the Legislature had adjourned so it could not override them. The Maine Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature, not the Governor, decides when it finishes its work and nullified all the vetoes.
Like LePage, Trump would find that he simply could not keep his campaign promises without gaining legislative support. For the Maine governor, the result has been massive, public outbursts of frustration with a process he seems never to have understood.
He has at times threatened to move out of his office, not make any nominations to executive or regulatory positions, and not swear in a legislator. In the end, he was forced to relent.
Trump could push the limits of executive power, like LePage. When the Democratic House speaker got a job running a charter school dependent on state funding, he warned the school’s board that he would cut off its funding unless they told the speaker, “You’re fired.” They complied.
Trump claims to be a tough negotiator, and LePage tries to be one. LePage refused to issue voter-approved bonds without first getting legislative concessions. But his gambit failed and after the Legislature did not meet his demands, LePage simply let the bonds lapse, overruling the voters.
Trump’s candidacy so far suggests his presidency could look a lot like this, including attempts at unilateral action, deadlock with Congress and ignoring the public will.
But it could go beyond a struggle between the executive and legislative branches. If Maine offers any hints, some matters will go to court.
The judicial branch does not like becoming involved in disputes between the other branches of government. It prefers to say that the voters are the court of last resort on such matters.
Without a way to reconcile differences between the executive and legislators, not much happens. Government fails to meet basic public needs. Voters experience deadlock and disappointment.
The LePage or Trump promise of change gives way to frustration. Frustration leads to desperation.
For what may be the first time in Maine history, the Legislature began considering the possibility of impeaching the governor. The move went nowhere out of deference to public opinion that probably would have been unhappy with the resulting chaos.
But impeachment at the federal level is less unusual. If a President Trump treated Congress the way LePage has treated the Maine Legislature, an effort to impeach him could be conceivable.
An executive, reckless in his public utterances and treatment of others and who believes his electoral victory should yield a compliant legislature and unchecked power, looks like Maine’s LePage today and could be tomorrow’s America with Trump.
Trump could bring back to life that old political saying, “As Maine Goes, so goes the Nation.”