View Full Version : Olympia Snowe: The GOP's lonely"(RINO)" Heretic

10-22-2009, 10:35 AM
There are 18 states, as columnist Mark Shields recently pointed out to me, that have gone Democratic in each of the last five presidential elections. Of the 36 senators who represent those states, only two are Republicans. Both are from Maine, one of the last, storm-lashed, surf-pounded footholds of the Yankee GOP. So it is hardly shocking that the lone Republican supporter of Democratic health reform on the Senate Finance Committee should be Maine's Olympia Snowe.

Snowe has taken a beating in the conservative media as part of the ``turncoat caucus'' and for being a RINO -- Republican in Name Only. But such criticism fails to take a syllogism into account. The GOP can't be a national party without winning in the Northeast; Republicans can't win in the Northeast without ideological heretics; therefore, the GOP will not be a national party without ideological heretics.

A central role

As heretics go, Snowe is a serious, principled one. Gaining her vote in committee was a genuine achievement for the administration. But recall that President Clinton got three Republican votes on the Senate Finance Committee for his health-reform bill in 1994 -- little good that it did him. And some Democrats rightly fear the central role that Snowe has taken.

If the bill she supported in committee is modified to secure liberal support among Senate Democrats, it is possible that Snowe will make a damaging vote against the final bill. ``Getting her vote and then losing it later,'' argues Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, ``is pretty much the only way health reform dies this year.''

Snowe's vote applies a thin veneer of bipartisanship on health reform, but it does not indicate broader Republican momentum. She did not bring any Republican colleagues along with her, and her main argument -- that the bill is flawed, but better than nothing -- is not likely to begin a rush. Non-Maine Republicans object to the Senate Finance bill for three substantive reasons that will be difficult to address without fundamentally changing the direction of reform.