U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, delivers her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 15 as Senate President Gary Stevens and House Speaker Cathy Tilton watch. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, delivers her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 15 as Senate President Gary Stevens and House Speaker Cathy Tilton watch. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Opinion: Sen. Lisa Murkowski has a job to finish

A few weeks ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski told CNN’s Manu Raju she regretted “that our party is seemingly becoming a party of Donald Trump.” There are two obvious problems with that statement. She may insist she’s still a Republican, but it’s no longer her party. And it doesn’t just seem like it’s Trump’s party. He pretty much owns it.

She also gave Raju a cryptic response when asked if she was considering leaving the party. “I am navigating my way through some very interesting political times” she said. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

We may have to wait to late summer of fall to get a glimpse of the course she’s charting.

Murkowski knows if Alaskan Republicans had their way, her Senate career would have ended long ago. In 2010, she lost the Republican state primary to a Tea Party candidate. Then, thanks largely to independents and Democrats, she made history by mounting a write-in campaign and winning the general election.

Although she was easily reelected in 2016, she remained largely at odds with the party by not endorsing Trump.

Once in office, it didn’t take long for him to realize she wasn’t his kind of team player. In July 2017, she was one of three Republicans who voted against repealing Obamacare. A year later she refused to support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever level of tolerance Trump had for her independence ended abruptly in June 2020. That’s when James Mattis, his former Secretary of Defense referred to his presidency as “three years without mature leadership.” Unlike his predecessors, Trump didn’t “try to unite the American people…he tries to divide us.”

For Murkowski, those words were “necessary and overdue,” and signaled time for she and her colleagues “to be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.”

Trump shot back by promising to campaign against her reelection in 2022. That’s exactly what he did.

But not before trying to overturn the election he lost. After his supporters violently stormed the Capital on Jan. 6, she called on him to resign immediately. She then voted to convict him of the sole impeachment charge stemming from those unfortunate events. And because the Senate trial took place after he’d already left office, the only significance consequence attached to that vote would have been Trump’s “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

As he had promised, in 2022 he endorsed Murkowski’s challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, as did state Republican Party. He also held a fundraiser for her at Mara Lago and appeared with her at a campaign rally in Anchorage.

Once again, independents and registered Democrats help Murkowski stave off defeat. Indeed, two years earlier, the same block of voters made that possible by adopting the open primary/ranked choice voting system in which she prevailed.

The one truth Murkowski can’t ignore is that she’s an outsider in today’s Republican Party mostly because she’s too honest about Trump’s complete lack of fitness to be president.

But speaking truth to his powerful grip on the party isn’t enough. She owes Alaskans who helped her return to the Senate in 2022 an effort like Liz Cheney is making to keep him from returning to the White House.

Cheney was the third-ranking House Republican in 2021 when she voted to impeach Trump. She was beaten in Wyoming’s Republican primary the next year. Now she’s supporting President Joe Biden.

For Murkowski to do that, she must first undo the false equivalency she established by lumping Biden in with Trump as the “two deeply flawed candidates” campaigning for president.

Cheney offers the correction. “I certainly have policy disagreements with the Biden Administration” she told a crowd at lecture in Iowa last month. “I know the nation can survive bad policy. We can’t survive a president who is willing to torch the Constitution.”

Murkowski understood that when she voted to convict Trump and forever disqualify him the presidency. At a minimum, finishing that job begins with publicly trying to persuade sincere Alaskan conservatives that voting for Biden is the right thing to do.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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