Could a Paul LePage-Donald Trump bromance be blossoming?
Pugnacious and politically very incorrect, Governor Paul LePage of Maine has called himself “Donald Trump before Donald Trump” and “Baby Donald.”
Like the president, LePage has declared war on the news media, stoked fears about immigrants, and linked minorities with crime.
Now, one month into the new presidency, the Republican governor could be looking to ratchet up the bromance.
LePage was busy in Washington recently, sitting on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference, attending the Governors Ball at the White House, and getting face time on the president’s favorite news show, “Fox and Friends.”
His extended stay in the capital has sparked speculation that Le-Page might be angling for a job in the Trump administration. The governor’s staff tersely deflected questions about that possibility, but jumping to Washington would extricate him from the roller-coaster controversies and confrontations that have marked his six years in Augusta.
If LePage did decamp, he would leave a governor’s office that — perhaps more than any other in the country — reflects the bare-knuckle, bombastic style that Trump has brought to the presidency.
“Trump and LePage are cut from the same cloth,” said Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party and a former state senator. “Since 2010, we’ve been dealing with Paul LePage making up facts, being a bully with anyone who disagrees with him, and being very adversarial with the press.”
Long before Trump called the news media “the enemy of the American people,” LePage said he wanted to blow up the building that houses the Portland Press Herald, Maine’s largest newspaper. The governor’s aides said he clearly was joking about the paper, which has reported on LePage’s curiously long visit to Washington.
But when Trump derides journalists as “dishonest,” he echoes what LePage has been saying for years. In 2012, the governor told 150 eighth-graders in Waterville that “reading newspapers in the state of Maine is like paying somebody to tell you lies.”
The similarities continue.
The president has said that illegal immigration from Mexico brought rapists and other violent criminals to the United States. LePage said in 2014 he had urged then-President Barack Obama “to pay attention to illegals in our country . . . because there is a spike in hepatitis C, tuberculosis, HIV, and it is going on deaf ears.”
Trump decried the “carnage” of crime in inner cities in his inaugural address. Last year, LePage said this to reporters: “Let me tell you something: Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers. You ought to look into that!’’
The governor also left an obscenity-laced voice mail in August for state Representative Drew Gattine, whom he called a “little, son-of-a-bitch, socialist [expletive]” after the Democrat criticized LePage for proclaiming that 90 percent of drug dealers arrested in Maine are black or Hispanic.
FBI data from 2014 show that blacks accounted for 14 percent of arrests in Maine for drug sales or manufacture. No statistics were collected by the FBI for drug arrests of Hispanics in Maine.
Coupled with their provocative language is an alpha-male swagger that reflects the aggressive business culture where they forged success — Trump as a billionaire developer, and LePage as a runaway who escaped poverty to lead a Maine-based chain of discount stores.
“They are two people who basically say what they think and aren’t particularly worried about politically correct culture. They’re very unvarnished,” said Matthew Gagnon, who leads the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank.
Trump has taken notice, according to LePage spokesman Peter Steele.
The president “is impressed with the significant accomplishments Governor LePage has made over the last six years — including the major accomplishments in fiscal responsibility, welfare reform, and tax reform that the state and national media have ignored,” Steele said.
LePage initially backed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for president, but he switched to Trump when his first choice dropped out. Only weeks earlier, LePage had declared that “I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump, although he should give me a stipend or he should give me a bonus about starting this whole thing about being outspoken.”
That style can work in business, but bluster sometimes backfires in politics — as LePage discovered early in his first term and Trump is finding now.
LePage’s no-prisoners approach has damaged relations even with some fellow Republicans, who control the state Senate. As a result, LePage’s record number of vetoes has forced both parties to seek common ground simply to keep the government running.
“At least until recently, the governor has viewed the Legislature as the enemy,” said state Senator Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta who has been critical of LePage.
Maybe all of the incessant carping — a Press Herald editorial in August, for example, apologized to the nation for LePage’s election — has prompted the governor to rethink how much he wants the $70,000-a-year job, a sum he compared to a nun’s pay.
Although the president and governor share similar personalities, their politics appear to come from different places. LePage always has been a staunch conservative; Trump’s leanings have vacillated.
LePage is “much more ideologically consistent than is Trump, particularly on economic issues,” said Daniel Shea, who directs the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College. “For LePage, the formula seems simple: the smaller government, the better. I’m not sure Trump has a similar guidepost.”
LePage also is not shy about criticizing the president. Last month, he lectured Trump about the need for better control of his fractious staff. “We got to tell him that the TV show’s over,” the governor said on Maine radio.
Term limits also mean that LePage’s “show” in Augusta is nearly over. The governor is prohibited from running again in 2018, which makes his extended stay in Washington even richer fodder for speculation.
If not the Trump administration, maybe something else? US Senator Angus King, an independent and former Maine governor, is up for reelection in two years.