As Donald Trump called many illegal Mexican immigrants "rapists and criminals" and questioned Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) war hero status and suggested temporarily banning Muslim immigrants -- all while climbing to or remaining at the top of the Republican presidential polls -- we in the political media scratched our heads and wondered how this could happen.
We've never seen anything like it, we said. We never could have predicted this could happen, we wrote.
But there actually is precedent for Trump's improbable rise to the top and ability to stay there despite saying things that would fell a lesser man. Before Trump's presidential campaign was even a reality, a brash Republican governor way up in the northeastern corner of the nation was raising hell and doing just fine in spite (or maybe because of) his Trump-ian style.
Meet Maine Gov. Paul LePage, the Donald Trump before there was Donald Trump.
If you haven't heard of him -- or hadn't heard of him until he recently said drug dealer with names like "D-Money" were coming to Maine and impregnating "young, white girl[s]" -- you're not alone. His many controversial statements have largely escaped national attention, and none of them were enough to stop him from winning reelection in blue Maine a little more than a year ago.
Since the former businessman's election in 2010, he's managed to upset just about everyone in the state. He said the NAACP "can kiss my butt." He angered labor groups by removing murals in government offices depicting labor's history. He called state workers "corrupt." And in one impressive sentence, he managed to upset labor, Democrats and Jewish people all at once by calling the IRS "the new Gestapo."
Oh, and let's quickly review LePage's remarks about journalists:
Seated in the cockpit of a flight simulator in 2013, LePage said he'd like to blow up the Portland Press Herald.
A year later while opening Maine's GOP headquarters, he said: “The worst part of my life is newspapers are still alive — sorry, I had to say it.”
In June, he unknowingly told the son of the Bangor Daily News's cartoonist he'd "like to shoot" his dad.
As for the "D-Money," "young, white girl[s]" comment? He kinda apologized for it, and, like it did after every one of his past controversial statements, life in Maine went on.
Not only has LePage has been able to wiggle out of almost every controversy he finds himself in; he doesn't really seem to have paid much of a price for any of them. He was elected in 2014 to a second term with 48 percent of the vote; increasing by more than 10 percentage points his support from 2010 -- and batting away expensive Democratic efforts to suggest the controversial governor is unfit for the job.
His reelection might not be quite as clear-cut. Senate Republican campaign head, Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.) told CQ Roll Call's Niels Lesnewski on Thursday that he thought very timely security fears over Ebola helped lift the controversial governor to victory.
It's also worth noting that LePage in his 2014 reelection again benefited from a three-way race, and his approval rating overall remains in very negative territory. Then again, so is Trump's, but that pesky fact so far hasn't undone either man thus far.
LePage, it would seem, is politically bulletproof. On Thursday, he closed the door on one more potential drama when the Democratic House debated -- and then voted down -- a proposal to look into impeaching him. Some Democrats even joined Republicans to vote down the impeachment effort. The impeachment procedure would have died in the Republican-controlled state Senate anyway.
The accusations of misconduct stem from LePage threatening to withhold state funding for a school unless it rescinded its job offer to LePage's rival. In December, the state's attorney general, a Democrat, said there was no evidence for a criminal probe.
The Portland Press-Herald's Steve Mistler reported that the House ended up passing a relatively mild rebuke. And so life in Maine — and LePage's political career — goes on.
LePage was characteristically unapologetic on Thursday — for the funding threat, for his controversial mouth, for all of it.
"I am politically incorrect," he told a room full of mostly supporters Thursday morning as the impeachment proceedings got underway in a town nearby. "If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t listen to me.”
And you could argue LePage has no reason to apologize. So far, his politically incorrect brand has been working great for him. Just like another certain politician we know.