With Sen. Olympia Snowe’s startling Tuesday announcement that she would retire, the GOP now must grapple with a key question: Did the centrist Republican lose interest in her Conference or did her Conference lose interest in centrist Republicans?
In the shadow of 2010’s conservative wave election, Snowe had become a “lone wolf” who was “adrift” in her own party, Republicans sources said. Snowe herself conceded Wednesday that she had been so focused on her re-election — and staving off a primary challenge since even before 2010 — that she had lost sight of why she was running in the first place.
Those close to Republican leadership insist that the Conference has not become inhospitable to moderates, but Snowe’s statements paint the picture of an establishment Republican frustrated with the direction of her party and unsure it will change anytime soon.
“It’s about the country and solving problems, and that was my final conclusion. ... If we cannot solve problems in this difficult time in our nation’s history, at what point would we? And whether or not that would change, that dynamic. And that’s the problem,” Snowe said Wednesday when asked whether a GOP takeover of the chamber in November would lead to more legislative productivity.
“It was less about my individual amendments or my individual initiatives, but more about the fact [of], ‘Can we solve problems?’ That’s the responsibility of the institution,” she added.
Republicans indicated that Snowe had become less engaged in recent months. For much of the 112th Congress, she rarely spoke up at caucus meetings, and when she did, her most memorable speeches lamented the lack of action on a budget resolution. If her views diverged from her colleagues, they didn’t know it because she rarely voiced them. However, the Maine Republican was effective when she focused on bringing specific initiatives to the floor, particularly from the Small Business Committee, where she serves as the ranking member.
Snowe is in line to take the helm of the powerful Commerce Committee, but sources said the post held little appeal for her. What she really wanted was the Finance Committee gavel, and she didn’t view a promotion on that powerful panel as likely anytime soon, if ever. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) likely will become Finance chairman in the next Congress if he wins re-election and the Republicans win the majority.
“She is 65 and wants to have a life — hanging on as chairman of Commerce left her wanting,” said one Republican operative who works on K Street.
Senate Republican aides said Snowe’s complaints are not restricted to centrists. Even the most conservative Members are increasingly annoyed at the gridlock.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.