Though U.S. Sen. Susan Collins refuses this year to say much about the presidential election, four years ago she made it clear what she thought of both of the leading contenders on this year’s ballot, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and President Donald Trump AP photos

Three months before the election in 2016, Collins trashed Trump in a controversial newspaper column in which she declared she would not vote for him.

In striking contrast, a month after Trump won, Collins heaped praise on Biden shortly before he left the vice presidency.

Despite Biden’s endorsement this year of her Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon, and Trump’s backing for the Republican in a four-way Senate race that’s among the most hotly contested in America, Collins has studiously avoided any public declaration of support for a president she has often supported, sometimes opposed, occasionally criticized and rarely praised.

It’s noteworthy that she has never retracted her harsh words for Trump, who’s seeking a second term, or backed away from the glowing description of Biden.

“I have made it a point to work constructively with every president with whom I have served regardless of whether or not I voted for him,” Collins said Friday. “Throughout my service in the Senate, I have worked successfully with two Democratic presidents and two Republican presidents.”

In an op-ed the Maine Republican wrote for The Washington Post on Aug. 8, 2016, she argued that Trump is “unworthy of being our president.”

She said his “unsuitability for office is based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, Collins called Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, “a good and decent man.”

“In a time of almost suffocating partisanship, Joe Biden is a breath of bipartisan fresh air,” Collins said in a Dec. 7, 2016 speech hailing his political career as a model of bipartisanship.

She called Biden “everybody’s friend — but nobody’s fool.”

Biden returned the favor a year later when he spoke by video to a ceremony where The Maine Irish Heritage Center gave Collins its 2017 Claddagh Award.

Praising her as “a woman of incredible character, integrity and grace,” Biden said he’d been lucky enough to call Collins “a friend for a long, long time.”

“I’m crazy about her,” Biden said. “For years, we’ve been hanging out together.”

Her touchiness about Trump could not have been clearer than what she wrote in her op-ed four years ago.

In that piece, Collins said Trump, with his “constant stream of denigrating comments,” routinely showed a “complete disregard for common decency.”

Shortly after Trump received the GOP’s nomination for president, Collins said he “does not reflect historical Republican values nor the inclusive approach to governing that is critical to healing the divisions in our country.”

“With the passage of time, I have become increasingly dismayed by his constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize,” she said.

Sen. Susan Collins talks with reporters last month. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald

Collins said she was especially upset with “his attacks directed at people who could not respond on an equal footing — either because they do not share his power or stature or because professional responsibility precluded them from engaging at such a level.”

She said Trump mocked the vulnerable, inflamed prejudices and otherwise demonstrated he “lacks the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.”

Collins said in her column that she was “deeply concerned that Mr. Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so.”

She said his “tendency to lash out when challenged further escalates the possibility of disputes spinning dangerously out of control.”

Collins said she hoped a “new” Trump would emerge in 2016, that he would “tone down his rhetoric, develop more thoughtful policies and, yes, apologize for ill-tempered rants.”

But, she said, it never happened.

Collins said Trump was “the same candidate who will slash and burn and trample anything and anyone he perceives as being in his way or an easy scapegoat.”

“Regrettably, his essential character appears to be fixed, and he seems incapable of change or growth,” Collins said.

While she has occasionally in the years since expressed hope Trump might reform, Collins has never said that he’s anything different than the man she denounced four years ago.

After the 2016 election, at a time when Biden was dealing with the death of a beloved son and contemplating his own political future as Trump prepared to take office, Collins said that after six terms in the Senate and two terms as vice president, Biden was “exactly the same person today as he was more than 40 years ago when” he took the first of many train trips between Delaware and the Capitol to take the oath of office.

She said Washington never changed him.

“It is an article of faith among those of us who know and love Joe Biden that nothing is more important to him than family,” Collins said.

“Although he has been sorely tested by several wrenching losses, Vice President Biden’s irrepressible spirit has never been broken,” Collins said. “He is as optimistic about his country today as he was in 1972, when as a county councilman he defeated a long-serving Senate incumbent and began the journey that ultimately led him to the second highest office in the land.”

“To know Joe Biden,” Collins said, “is to admire him, his warmth, his devotion to friends and family, his commitment to all things Delaware, and his fierce loyalty to his party that somehow never alienated those of us on the other side of the aisle.”

“Perhaps that is due to the many thoughtful gestures the vice president demonstrates every day,” Collins said.

“How well I remember bringing my younger brother to the White House holiday party one year and running into” Biden “just as he was leaving after a long day of work,” Collins said.

“He instantly stopped and asked if we would like for him to give us a personal tour of the West Wing of the White House,” she said, adding that he proceeded to give “my brother and me one the best tours of the White House that anyone could ever have.”

Collins said Biden “is a breath of bipartisan fresh air. People may disagree with Joe on one or two or even 10 issues, but nobody finds him disagreeable. It is often said that if you don’t love Joe Biden, it is time for some serious introspection. You may have a serious problem.”

At that time, Collins said, it was impossible to guess Biden’s future.

But, she said, “this much is certain: He will face the future with unbridled enthusiasm, extraordinary energy and an unwavering commitment to his family, his friends and his country.”

Biden, in his talk almost a year later, spoke of Collins’ future.

“You have a long way to go,” Biden told his old Senate colleague. “You have a lot more to give.”

Despite what she called her “extraordinary friendship” with Biden, she never forgot that he was a Democrat with a political agenda that differed from her own.

In her op-ed, Collins said that “being a Republican is part of what defines me as a person.”

“I revere the history of my party, most particularly the value it has always placed on the worth and dignity of the individual, and I will continue to work across the country for Republican candidates,” she said.

“It is because of Mr. Trump’s inability and unwillingness to honor that legacy that I am unable to support his candidacy,” Collins said in 2016.

If her judgment ever changed, Collins has never said so.

At the end of the 2016 campaign, unable to bring herself to vote for anyone on the presidential ballot, Collins said she wrote in former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan as her choice for president.

This year, she refuses to say how she’ll vote.

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