Hope she suffers

Those three words are among the many that filled the Facebook page of the Maine Republican Party on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Gov. Janet Mills revealed that she had been exposed to a probable case of COVID-19 and will quarantine inside the Blaine House until Dec. 12.

This, Maine Republicans, is what your party has become.

It all started Tuesday evening, when the governor’s office put out a statement announcing she’d been exposed to a member of her Maine State Police security unit who became ill with COVID-19 symptoms Monday. The officer has since tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mills, true to form, said she planned to stay put at home and follow the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for anyone who has come into contact with an infected person.

“I feel well and have no symptoms right now,” Mills said in a short video that accompanied the announcement. “I’ll keep you informed, however, of any changes in the coming days.”

There once was a time when such news would be greeted with widespread concern and good wishes not only for the governor but for the member of her Executive Protective Unit with whom she last had contact Saturday – they were both masked and spent less than 10 minutes in a car together.

But that’s not how it works these days. Amid a pandemic that could not be more politicized, news like this presents, for some, an opportunity to pounce.

And pounce the Republicans did.

Less than three hours after Mills’ announcement, state Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas issued a statement headlined “Mills Must Provide More Info On Her COVID Exposure.”

To be fair, Kouzounas did express “hope that Governor Mills has not contracted the virus.” But Mills, she said, “owes the public and lawmakers more information.”

Such as?

“Given the timeline, it is possible that the Governor and her staff may have exposed Democrat Leadership and the Democrat caucus to the virus,” Kouzounas continued. “The possibility of the Governor infecting legislators from all corners of the state is a major public health risk that must be dealt with at once. We call on Janet Mills to immediately provide additional information so the public can understand who may be impacted and if proper protocols were taken.”

Proper protocols? This from the party that for the past nine months has done everything it can to play down the coronavirus as a threat to public safety.

Throughout this year’s campaign season, they regularly held rallies at which few people, if anyone, wore masks.

The harder Mills has pushed to suppress the spread of COVID-19, the harder they have pushed back.

Beneath a news release last month on the party website, in which Kouzounas called Mills’ latest statewide mask order “beyond excessive,” one party loyalist replied, “Fuhrer Mills.” Another called COVID-19 “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated.” Still others referred to Mills with obscenities that cannot be repeated here.

And now, the party that serves as an incubator for so much misinformation and bile is suddenly wringing its hands that Mills may have infected her fellow Democrats? They lament that the governor, by inadvertently being exposed to COVID-19 and following every rule and recommendation to the letter in the days since, suddenly represents “a major health risk that must be dealt with at once?”

Please.

Wednesday afternoon, I emailed Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director, to ask about the “Hope she suffers” post that remained on the party’s website a full 15 hours after Mills announced her quarantine.

“Does the party monitor and/or curate these comments?” I asked. “And if so, why would a comment actually wishing an elected official harm remain on the page?”

Savage, in an email response a short time later, said party officials keep an eye on the comments “as well as we can” but had missed this one because it wasn’t listed among the “most relevant” comments on the page. Upon finding the comment, he said, he removed it immediately.

“And of course, we are not wishing that any harm or illness would befall Gov. Mills,” Savage wrote. “This was a matter of missing it because of how it was displayed – we have caught a few other inappropriate comments.”

Apparently they also missed the one claiming the governor’s quarantine “very well could be a tactic to implement more shutdown orders and stronger restrictions.. claims she has it or got it. Claims we’re not doing enough.. boom..police state overnight. And she’ll use the term ‘it’s for your safty (sic)’ ”

That’s exactly what this is about,” chimed in another commenter. “She will attempt to lock us down harder.

Then there’s another grammatically challenged partisan who observed, “you may not wish she gets it but i bet theres 500k mainers that hopes she does.”

In his email, Savage worried aloud that his “fundamental response won’t matter much and will get spun into something else.”

Actually, there’s no need to spin anything here. The once-proud Maine Republican Party has decayed right before our eyes.

Removing a single comment wishing the state’s chief executive ill doesn’t change the fact that where there was once true conservatism, there is now chaos.

Gone are the smart, sophisticated and savvy elders who for decades steered their party on at least a rational heading – their policies at times debatable, but not their integrity. In their place now sits a rickety leadership that specializes only in tearing the opposition down.

If that means contradicting themselves for the sake of landing a political blow, their reasoning goes, then so be it.

If their dog whistles rile the base into a frenzy, mission accomplished.

And if civilized Mainers recoil at their incendiary rhetoric and tactics, the problem somehow becomes us, not them.

Put simply, the Maine Republican Party can no longer claim to be respectable.

They’re insufferable.


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