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    Sunday, June 16, 2024

    Connecticut GOP must set its own course. Can it?

    The challenge for the Connecticut Republican Party and its chairman, Ben Proto, is to find a way of defining the core values of the state party as separate and distinct from the priorities of the national party.

    As long as the discussion is about attempts by Republicans to further restrict access to abortion, potentially with a national ban approved by Congress, as long as it is about defending Donald Trump and his unlawful attempts to overturn an election he lost fair and square, the party will find it difficult to compete for state offices here in Connecticut.

    Because if those are the dominant issues, Connecticut Republicans will be unable to attract the centrist Democrats and the unaffiliated voters the party needs to win gubernatorial elections and compete for state Senate and House seats. The state has about 801,000 registered Democrats, 453,000 Republicans, and 909,000 unaffiliated voters.

    The fact is, most Connecticut Republican candidates, and certainly those who have competed for governor, have supported women having the right to choose how to manage their pregnancy. The party’s arguments on the issue — at the state level — have centered on matters such as parental consent and restrictions on late-term abortions, not on outright bans.

    And Connecticut Republicans, while arguing in favor of measures such as requiring voter photo identification, questioning the transparency of the absentee ballot process, and debating the details of early voting rules, have not pushed for the kind of voter restrictions seen in some Republican-dominated states, restrictions that have the intent of suppressing urban and minority votes.

    But such policy nuances are overwhelmed by the extremist tilt of the Republican Party at the national level — and to Trump. And the state party has no strategy to change that dynamic. Many core Republicans in the state, including some elected officials, are also core MAGA Republicans, and party leaders seem to live in fear of alienating them by speaking frankly about why Trump is unfit to be president again.

    And please do not embarrass yourself with the specious argument that if Trump genuinely believed the election had been stolen by President Biden and the Democrats, then his saying so was protected free speech. Using that twisted logic, Trump defenders contend the judicial system is being used to attack and block a political opponent by way of criminal prosecution.

    Wrong.

    Yes, Trump had the right to call the election “fake,” whether he believed it or not. But as president he had a constitutional duty to uphold the law. In this country, if a presidential candidate, or any candidate, suspects election fraud, he can turn to the courts. But if the courts find the evidence lacking, and uphold the election results, the president has a constitutional and legal duty to accept and implement the election results.

    Over five dozen times courts rejected appeals made by the Trump campaign challenging Biden’s solid 306-232 Electoral College victory. Three times the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed petitions filed by the Trump campaign. In a nation of laws, such rulings must settle the matter.

    Yet, instead of fulfilling his oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," Trump undermined faith in our elections by continuing his baseless claims of fraud. He and his enablers pursued a scheme to reverse state election results and present false electors. Trump, impeached for his actions, should have been convicted by the Senate and thus prohibited from ever holding public office again. Unfortunately, only seven Republican senators had the political courage to do the right thing and vote to convict.

    Whether Trump’s actions were criminal — I believe they were — will be for state and federal juries to decide.

    A Trump conviction would provide the opportunity for Connecticut Republican leadership to make a clean break, to state unequivocally that what Trump did was wrong and dangerous. Better yet, don’t wait, take that position now.

    Proto, the party chairman, was a known admirer of the late Arizona Senator John McCain and a leader in McCain’s presidential campaigns in Connecticut. McCain, a true hero, was everything Trump is not. McCain was ethical, gracious, and always true to the oaths he took to the U.S. Constitution. Proto is also a former registrar of voters.

    Certainly, Proto must see Trump for what he is and appreciate the damage he is doing to our democracy.

    Not that long ago a Republican served as governor for four straight terms, 16 years, until the election of Democrat Dannel Malloy in 2010. In 2017, when Trump took office, Republicans and Democrats were split in the state Senate 18-18. Republicans were just five seats short of a House majority. In every election since, the MAGA movement has driven more voters away and Democrats have become dominant, taking the Senate 24-12 and the House 98-53 in the 2022 election.

    Competitive elections are healthy. No one party has a monopoly on promising ideas. But Connecticut will not be competitive in state elections until they can figure out how to return the debate to such fundamental issues as the economy, fiscal policy, reviving our cities, and government transparency.

    Maybe it is too late. Like a malignant tumor, perhaps the tentacles of the MAGA-era of the Republican Party are so entwined in its body politic that they cannot be safely removed. If that is the case, Republicans will have to settle for being outraged over the status of their deep-blue state, with no realistic avenue to change the pigment.

    Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at p.choiniere@yahoo.com.

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