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Susan Collins: The Old Republican Establishment’s Finest Hour

There was a time when the Northeast was an important part of the historical base of the Republican Party and the epicenter of the Republican Establishment.

Old Republican names, now almost lost to history, were the thought leaders and kingmakers of the GOP: Susan CollinsGovernor and Senator Leverett A. Saltonstall, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Senator Prescott Bush, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Rep. Hamilton Fish IV and others were of the old breed of Yankee, mostly Protestant “good government” Republicans who were more in tune with the progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt than the growing conservative movement.

Although often deeply conservative on a personal level, they shared TR’s view that an active and growing government was entirely proper. Fighting the corruption of urban Democratic political machines, American participation in international organizations, such as the Bretton Woods agreement and the United Nations charter, and slow, but steady growth of federal spending and government power were the hallmarks of this old-fashioned kind of Republicanism.

The near-extinction of that brand of Republicanism was set in motion by Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, who became the leading spokesman for its policies, even as he broke its cherished norms of personal rectitude.

This led Senator Prescott Bush, father of one President Bush and grandfather of another, to remark about Governor Rockefeller:

Have we come to the point in our life as a nation where the governor of a great state—one who perhaps aspires to the nomination for president of the United States—can desert a good wife, mother of his grown children, divorce her, then persuade a young mother of four youngsters to abandon her husband and their four children and marry the governor?

Prescott Bush’s attack on Rockefeller and defense of Goldwater during the 1964 campaign was one of the few times that the old Northeast Republicans came out in defense of a conservative.

Maine’s Senator Susan Collins, perhaps the last of this old-fashioned breed of Republicans to serve in high public office, had a similar moment during the post-cloture debate on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Senator Collins delivered a nearly hour-long speech during which she carefully and logically dissected the charges against Judge Brett Kavanaugh made by Christine Blasey Ford and others.

In a logical, dispassionate review of the facts – devoid any ideological fervor for placing a conservative nominee on the court – Collins focused on the facts and the Senate’s constitutional role in the confirmation process.

It was a tour de force in what made the old Yankee brand of Republicanism so appealing to “good government” progressive voters from the late nineteenth through the early and mid-twentieth century.

Decrying the unprecedented amount of dark money spent opposing Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, Senator Collins said, “Our Supreme Court confirmation process has been in steady decline for more than 30 years. One can only hope that the Kavanaugh nomination is where the process has finally hit rock bottom.”

She then went on to reference Federalist 76 as dispositive on the Senate’s proper role in giving its advice and consent on presidential appointments and judicial nominees in particular.

Perhaps most interestingly, Senator Collins put the nomination in the context of Judge Kavanaugh’s views on presidential power, definitively knocking down the idea that Kavanaugh was somehow chosen to protect President Trump from the Democrats’ everchanging fantasies of wrongdoing:

… Judge Kavanaugh has been unequivocal in his belief that no president is above the law. He has stated that Marbury vs. Madison, Youngstown Steel vs. Sawyer and The United States vs. Nixon are three of the greatest Supreme Court cases in history. What do they have in common? Each of them is a case where Congress served as a check on presidential power.

And I would note that the fourth case that Judge Kavanaugh has pointed to as the greatest in history was Brown vs. The Board of Education. One Kavanaugh decision illustrates the point about the check on presidential power directly. He wrote the opinion in Hamdan vs. The United States, a case that challenges the Bush administration’s military commission prosecution of an associate of Osama bin Laden. This conviction was very important to the Bush administration, but Judge Kavanaugh, who had been appointed to the DC Circuit by President Bush and had worked in President Bush’s White House, ruled that the conviction was unlawful. As he explained during the hearing, “we don’t make decisions based on who people are or their policy preferences or the moment. We base decisions on the law.”

Perhaps most importantly, Senator Collins went on to parse Judge Kavanaugh’s views on precedent in the context of Roe v. Wade and abortion “rights.”

Said Senator Collins:

There has also been considerable focus on the future of abortion rights based on the concern that Judge Kavanaugh would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Protecting this right is important to me. To my knowledge, Judge Kavanaugh is the first Supreme Court nominee to express the view that precedent is not merely a practice and tradition, but rooted in Article 3 of our Constitution itself. He believes that precedent is not just a judicial policy, it is constitutionally dictated to pay attention and pay heed to rules of precedent. In other words, precedent isn’t a goal or an aspiration. It is a constitutional tenet that has to be followed except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Senator Collins went on to explain Judge Kavanaugh’s views on precedent, “The judge further explained that precedent provides stability, predictability, reliance and fairness.”

Stability, predictability, reliance and fairness – all old-fashioned Republican virtues that have long gone out of style in today’s cut and slash politics but might well be considered the hallmarks of Senator Collins’ own service.

We conservatives often disagree with Senator Susan Collins, and we will continue to do so, but one thing we can agree on is that stability, predictability, reliance and fairness are still virtues worthy of admiration and respect during our disagreements.

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