The re-election of state Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas may have come as a shock to some. The party she presides over just suffered steep losses at all levels of government across the state, from rural northern Maine to the more densely populated south and everywhere in between.

It was certainly the worst result for Maine Republicans in at least the past decade, and by some measures much longer, so it’s easy to understand why many felt it was time for a change.

In retrospect, though, it should come as no surprise to seasoned observers that the incumbent held on to her position. In his announcement withdrawing from the race, former Sen. Garrett Mason cited a “cult of personality” — presumably around former Gov. Paul LePage, though he didn’t say so explicitly — as part of the reason that he couldn’t garner the necessary support.

There’s some truth to that, and Mason was right to raise that concern. There’s disunity within the Maine GOP right now, as various activists form their own groups and pursue their own agendas rather than working with one another. However, that’s not a brand-new phenomenon, nor is it an irreparable one; it will just take someone able to bring together the different parts of the party.

Nate Silver recently mapped out the divisions within the Democratic Party in advance of the 2020 presidential race. The same exercise can be applied to the Maine GOP to give us a sense of where it’s been, how things stand, and where it might be going. It’s clear that right now the establishment of the state party has been largely supportive of Gov. LePage for the past eight years, and for the most part are supportive of President Donald Trump as well. The tea party movement that helped elect LePage in 2010 has had eight years to consolidate its control of the state party, and many longtime Republicans have made their peace with that.

LePage wasn’t just elected by the nascent tea party movement, though. He was also able to draw support from dedicated fiscal conservatives, who were eager to see a fiscally responsible governor in office to rein in the Democrats’ tax hikes and reckless spending. For the most part, LePage has met their expectations over the years — and when he didn’t, they mostly laid their blame at the feet of the Legislature, expressing their disappointment in both parties. Fiscal conservatives should keep in mind, though, that LePage was able to get the most done on the issues they care about when he was working with the Legislature, rather than combating it.

LePage also found popularity among social conservatives. In 2010, he was one of the most socially conservative candidates for governor, and that earned him a lot of votes that most of his opponents had little chance of getting. Even if he couldn’t do much about abortion rights or marriage equality, social conservatives appreciated having an ally in the Blaine House, especially as he stalled implementation of marijuana legalization and fought the spread of gambling in Maine.

More libertarian-minded Republicans in Maine also largely supported the governor, even if they regretted that he didn’t support Ron Paul for president in 2012. They loved his strong support for gun rights, as well as his frequent support for individual liberty on issues large and small. They’re a powerful force in the Maine GOP who can have a major impact when they’re focused and organized. His popularity among all of these different groups explains why the state committee took LePage’s endorsement to heart.

There are also traditional moderate Republicans, whose influence has been on the wane in recent years. Moderate Republicans are usually more realists than ideologues; they’re often willing to work with conservatives and liberals alike when necessary. They haven’t gotten along well with LePage, though, as they didn’t appreciate his combative style — and many have similar apprehensions about Donald Trump.

Over the coming years, as Republicans seek to rebound, it will be important to note which candidates can unite these groups — or at least pull a few of them together. Whichever candidate does that best will probably win the primary; that was a big part of the reason why Shawn Moody easily won the nomination. If they want to win the general, though, the state party better work on bringing these factions together as well — and they should start yesterday.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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