State Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn speaks in Augusta in 2015. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press file photo

In the summer of 2015, state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn had a clear favorite among the 17 contenders vying for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

And it wasn’t Donald Trump.

That August, Brakey took to the airwaves on the radio show hosted on Bangor’s WVOM by George Hale and Ric Tyler to plug the White House hopes of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

After Brakey’s introduction to listeners, Hale mentioned that Tyler had “a whole box of Trump T-shirts over here.”

“I wonder if it makes good kindling,” Brakey responded.

Brakey, no longer a state lawmaker, said Wednesday it was just a heat-of-the-moment aside in keeping with the sort of sniping that went on at the time between Trump and Paul — and, more broadly, between Trump and most everyone.

Libertarian-minded Paul “was my guy,” Brakey said, admitting that he was skeptical of Trump at the time.

With Trump, he said, “it was kind of like Russian roulette. You didn’t know what you would get when you pulled the trigger.”

Four and a half years later, Brakey and two other GOP contenders — Adrienne Bennett of Bangor and Dale Crafts of Lisbon — are vying for their party’s nomination to run for Congress in Maine’s 2nd District.

All three have been scrambling to convince voters in the June 9 GOP primary that they’re the best choice to defeat first-term Democrat Jared Golden and go on to serve in the U.S. House.

Two Republican congressional candidates in Maine’s 2nd District, Adrienne Bennett and Dale Crafts, were among the thousands who attended a rally for President Donald Trump on Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire. Submitted photo

For Bennett, a former press secretary to Gov. Paul LePage, it’s a simple stance: She’s been with Trump from the start.

Crafts, who served in the Legislature, also has a straightforward argument: Both he and the president are businessmen who know what it takes to cut deals and move the country forward.

For Brakey, though, it’s been a long and winding road.

He’s never going to have the same full-throated, pro-Trump stance of his primary foes.

While Bennett and Crafts ventured to Manchester, New Hampshire, this week before its primary to see a big Trump rally, Brakey said he spent the evening “meeting and speaking with Republican caucus-goers” in Washington County.

“I would have loved to travel out of state to attend the rally,” he said, “but I’m running to represent” the people of Maine’s 2nd District, “not New Hampshire.”

Brakey has kind words for the president, though. He said Trump has taken the right stand on most issues and served as “a change agent” in Washington who has proven willing to take on the military-industrial complex, the secretive intelligence community and many other sacred cows.

“Trump is far and away the best president I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Brakey said.

Even so, he can’t escape the reality that on social media he once called Trump “a buyer of career politicians” whose nomination in 2016 would be “a disaster for all those who believe in limited government and the Constitution.”

During that radio interview in August 2015, Brakey said he could only support Paul among all of the Republican contenders because the rest of the field were “big spenders” who would do nothing to lower the national debt, which he called “the biggest threat to our future.”

At the time, Brakey expressed confidence that Republican voters would pick a candidate with substance rather than flair. With Trump, he said, “there’s really no policy ideas” beyond building a wall and making Mexico pay for it.

“The choice is painfully obvious,” Brakey said as he advocated for Paul.

It turned out, of course, that the GOP rank-and-file, in primary after primary in 2016, apparently found the choice pretty obvious as well. It’s just that they wanted Trump, not Paul or anyone else in the race.

Brakey said that by the time the primary ended in 2016 with Trump as the GOP nominee, he’d already made peace with the necessity of voting for the mercurial New York developer.

“I wasn’t on the Trump train,” he said, but realized he couldn’t vote for the only real alternative, Gary Johnson, a libertarian who attracted some who didn’t trust Trump.

It was clear that either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton would be the next president, Brakey said, so he knew he had to pick one or the other.

It wasn’t a tough call. Given what he saw as Clinton’s reckless record on foreign policy, Brakey said he opted to roll the dice on Trump.

Brakey, who lost a U.S. Senate race in 2018, said he’s never regretted it.

Trump, he said, “has exceeded all my expectations for him.”

Brakey said that unlike many others, he’s not part of the “cult of personality” that draws some to Trump.

He said it’s too important “to deal with reality” and pay attention to the issues.

Trump is not the fiscal hawk that Brakey would like to see. He’s dismayed to see the national debt growing, spending on the rise and his party failing to keep promises to bring down the deficit.

Those are issues he vowed to work on if he’s elected in November.

But there are many other issues where Trump is “making the effort” required to bring change, especially to end overseas wars that have cost the nation dearly for decades with no real return on the investment, Brakey said.

As a young man, Brakey said, he believed the United States had to go into Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t until the Tea Party came along a decade ago that he realized “we’d all been lied to” by President George W. Bush to back an unnecessary war.

It’s past time to bring the troops home, Brakey said, and stop shelling out a fortune to put the American military in dangerous situations far away. Trump understands that, Brakey said, and is trying to do something about it.

Trump “has been a transformational president” who has “done some very impressive things,” he said. “I support Trump because of what he does.”

Brakey said he has faith that 2nd Congressional District Republicans will see that any harsh words he had for Trump in the heat of a primary campaign years ago are not what matters.

What matters, he said, is that he can work with Trump in Washington to advance a conservative agenda that’s crucial for America’s future.


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