Trumpified state Republicans headed toward disaster
Two months ago, I began my column with a question and ended it with an observation.
The question: How much has Donald Trump changed the Republican Party in Connecticut? In selecting Trump acolyte Leora Levy over former state House minority leader Themis Klarides in the Aug. 9 Senate primary, Republican voters provided the answer. Trump has profoundly changed their party in Connecticut.
The observation: A Levy victory would leave Sen. Richard Blumenthal smiling. That was an understatement. The entire Democratic establishment is smiling over the outcome that placed a Trump devotee near the top of the Republican ticket.
This will be another bad election for Connecticut Republicans. The only question is how bad.
With Klarides facing Blumenthal, Republicans could have presented themselves as the party they once were. A party that focuses on fiscal prudency and keeping government out of the affairs of businesses and individuals as much as possible. A party of law-and-order.
Remade in Trump’s image, without respect for law or order, Republicans are now the party that believes it is OK to reject the results of an election and ignore the courts when they uphold the results. It is a party that thinks it is fine that a president conspired to present a false set of electors to steal an election rightly won by his opponent. In sum, it is a party the people cannot trust with the keys to democracy.
It is a party that for decades made it a priority to reverse the Supreme Court ruling that the choice to abort a pregnancy in the first two trimesters was a private matter and constitutionally protected. Republicans achieved that goal. Fourteen states have banned abortions since the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. If Republicans return to power in Washington, they could pass a federal ban covering all states.
In choosing Levy, an election-denying Trump apologist who wants abortion outlawed, Republican voters declared they are THAT Republican Party. Such a party might do well in the Deep South or conservative Midwestern states. It will be crushed in Connecticut.
Blumenthal will cruise to victory. Democrats will again win all five congressional seats.
Meanwhile, at the top of the Republican ticket, what is Bob Stefanowski doing? He should have strongly backed and campaigned with Klarides. Stefanowski could have pointed to the spending and volatility caps Klarides was part of enacting as the kind of approach he would take in controlling spending, while making the case that incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont is claiming more credit for record budget surpluses than he deserves.
Instead, incredibly, Stefanowski gave the maximum $5,800 donation to Levy in the primary, nothing to Klarides. His explanation? Klarides did not ask. It was political malpractice. Levy is the anchor around his neck and Stefanowski helped put her there.
Stefanowski is running a campaign without a defining message. He talks of his intent to “change the status quo and make Connecticut more affordable” but offers few details about how, aside from recently promising to stop collecting a myriad of small “nuisance taxes” and fees that produce little revenue.
Recently the Stefanowski campaign tried out another theme, seeking to paint the Lamont administration as corrupt. But the challenger offered no evidence of wrongdoing by Lamont, only mismanagement (see State Pier) and guilt by association. Stefanowski needs a smoking gun and instead he has an empty one.
Stefanowski’s recent decision to change his entire leadership team suggests a campaign in trouble. To appeal to moderates and Democrats, there have been suggestions the Republican gubernatorial candidate should attack Trump and his behavior Liz Cheney style. But how can he, given the results of the Senate primary that chose the Trump-endorsed Levy, a candidate Stefanowski supported? He is boxed in. The best Stefanowski can do is try to avoid talking about Trump.
Lamont, meanwhile, can point to those budget surpluses after years of budgetary crises and his signing of $660 million in tax cuts into law, including a $250-per-child state income tax rebate. Fiscally, he governed like an old-style Connecticut Republican. Meanwhile Lamont’s stance on social issues — supporting increases in the minimum wage, passage of a family-leave law, defense of abortion rights, and pushing for early voting and easier absentee voting — plays well with party progressives.
And Lamont got good grades for his management of the pandemic in the state.
While the incumbent would be tough to beat in any scenario, a great opponent backed by a Republican Party that appeals to moderate Democrats and unaffiliated voters could make a credible challenge. But Lamont confronts neither.
Things could be so bad for Republicans that the Democrats enlarge their already substantial legislative majorities — 23-13 in the state Senate and 97-54 in the House. One-party dominance is not good for sound governance, yet it appears in the age of Trump that is where things stand. As recently as 2018, the Senate was split 18-18 and Democrats held the House by just a few votes.
One race to watch locally is the 20th District. With Republican Sen. Paul Formica’s decision not to run, the district — Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford — is now a tossup and could flip to the Democrats. Martha Marx of New London, well organized and running for a third time, faces Republican Jerry Labriola Jr. of Old Saybrook. Like other Democrats, Marx will benefit from receiving the votes of those who cannot stomach the current Republican Party, even if their views don’t align with her progressive positions.
Connecticut’s Trump base emerged triumphant primary day. It will prove to be a pyrrhic victory.
Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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