Just two years ago, Chris Collins was carving out a nice reputation as the Republican congressman from a vast swath of Western New York.
He emphasized his conservative, pro-business agenda and surprised many with his embrace of legislative collegiality after so many years as a corporate CEO and then Erie County executive.
Then along came Donald Trump. After a dalliance with Jeb Bush (which nobody likes to talk about anymore), Collins emerged as the first House member to support the Manhattan businessman. He was on the team.
Indeed, Collins became ubiquitous during the campaign and early days of the Trump administration. Once again a few days ago, he jumped aboard national and local airwaves to weigh in on various subjects. But aside from his usual intense defense of the president, his most significant pronouncement seemed almost an afterthought.
Following his assertion to WBEN Radio on Wednesday that he will begin carrying a gun after GOP congressmen and staffers were shot on a Virginia ball diamond, Collins took a breath.
“It’s time for all of us, including myself,” he said, “to tone down our rhetoric and recognize that we are all one country and all proud Americans.”
That’s welcome news. Because just a day earlier the congressman was lambasting The Buffalo News during one of his frequent appearances on CNN. Collins incorrectly gloated that The News had “retracted” a May story reporting on a Daily Beast article that labeled him the GOP member of Congress with the most investments in the health care industry, and that he stood to financially gain from his votes on recent health care bills.
The News felt obligated to report the gist of the Daily Beast report, but first called Collins’ office for reaction to the story. Collins’ answer focused on jobs his company had created, but did not address the Daily Beast claims when given the opportunity.
When The News story appeared, the Collins machine swung into action, correctly pointing out that the congressman would not financially gain from his votes on health care legislation. His shop directed its outrage at The News, after passing on refuting the Daily Beast account and after knowing The News would be obligated to report on the original story.
The News did not “retract” the story. It addressed the concerns by issuing a “clarification” based on Collins’ original refusal to comment.
Now a May missive from campaign operative Chris Grant asks supporters to “chip in and help us fight back” against the “liberal DC establishment and the media.” He then blames The News for the Daily Beast reporting, after the newspaper received no comment on the assertions of the original story and after it issued a clarification acknowledging the facts.
“This morning’s Buffalo News story about Chris’ involvement in two companies … is simply the latest effort by anti-Trump leftists and their allies in the press to manufacture a story that is simply not true,” Grant wrote. “The Buffalo News and local press will do everything in their power to turn this into a race for Chris, even without an opponent.”
Indeed, The News has reported that national Democrats have targeted Collins for the 2018 election. But The News has also noted how difficult that challenge will prove for any Democrat in New York State’s most Republican congressional district.
Collins presides in the heart of New York’s Trump country, and will not shy away from his loyalty to the president. He continues to raise money by appealing to foes of the “liberal media,” and keeps a healthy bank account of his own in reserve. Few Dems will volunteer to take him on.
But in “targeting” the incumbent, national Democrats may be signaling an effort to at least make life miserable for him. Hearken to 1996, when the late UAW Regional Director Tom Fricano launched a well-funded and well-run Democratic campaign that came nowhere near unseating Bill Paxon – a Collins predecessor in the seat – but tied him in knots.
In the meantime, we’ll look for the kinder, gentler Collins and his toned-down rhetoric – or at least minus the distortions.