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Disappearance of the New England Republican

The New England Republican – that collaborative problem solver who once commanded national prominence – is near extinction in Washington.

Traditional New England Republicans believed in providing good government through bipartisan consensus building and prudent fiscal restraint. There’s no room in today’s Republican congressional caucus for that sort of civilized pragmatism.

Although they still thrive throughout the towns and state legislatures of the northeast, the New England Republican is an endangered species at the federal level.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who voted for witness testimony in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, is the last of the New England GOP centrists. She faces an uphill battle for 2020 re-election.

Moderates like Collins are dismissed as RINOs — Republicans in name only — by some fellow Republicans and vilified by Democrats who see them as enabling a hard-right agenda.

The demise of the New England Republican in Washington is part of a broader story, one in which both parties became skewed to the ideological fringes. But the trend has been particularly acute among Republicans. While there is still a place among Democrats for folks such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, right of center on issues such as gun rights, the equivalents in the Republican Party are vanishing.

As the conservative movement gained momentum in the Reagan and Bush years – and as Fox News ascended - moderate Republicans were disparaged as conservative apostasies.

Moderate congressional Republicans were marginalized further in 2012 with the rise of the brutal power politics from the freshmen Tea Party members in the House. Moderates took another hit in the Senate in 2014 when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took control.

McConnell, R-Kentucky, runs the Senate like a strongman; focused on accumulating ever more Republican power. McConnell routinely skirts Senate rules for partisan advantage.

Two prime examples are the 2016 blocked confirmation hearings of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and last month’s servile coordination with the White House to protect President Trump from impeachment.

McConnell calls himself the “grim reaper” of House-passed legislation. House Democrats have passed hundreds of bills, including background checks for gun purchases, election cyberattack security, and prescription drug price regulation. All are stalled. McConnell denies them a Senate hearing.

To McConnell’s mastery of strident partisanship, President Trump added his own toxic blend of personal grievance, demonizing immigrants and petty cruelty.

New England voters in the last 20 years became disillusioned as the national GOP morphed into something more ruthless and reckless. They stopped sending Republicans to Congress.

Today, all 21 congressional House districts in the New England states are Democrat controlled. Eastern Connecticut retired its three-term Republican congressman Rob Simmons in 2006, electing Democrat Joe Courtney.

Of the 12 New England U.S. Senators, 10 are Democrats; Collins the sole Republican. Maine’s other senator, Angus King, is independent, but caucuses with the Democrats.

Thankfully, the New England Republican remains vibrant at the state and municipal level. The New England states are divided between three Republican (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont) and three Democratic (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine) governors.

The Connecticut General Assembly is dominated by Democrats. However, Republicans are a force for southeastern Connecticut. The four state senators, 12 state House districts and the chief elected executive in 16 towns covered by The Day are equally apportioned.

Democrat and Republican southeastern Connecticut elected officials communicate frequently and civilly. They collaborate to advance the interests of the region. The country was once like this.

In Hartford, there is political gamesmanship aplenty as the parties haggle over highway tolls, debt ceilings, and energy policy. But that infighting is centered where it belongs: a clash over policy ideas and ideologies.

Although outnumbered with little leverage, the engagement by Republicans in the General Assembly is principled and valuable, seldom like Washington’s corrosive vitriol and vendetta politics.

For the nation’s well-being, the federal Republican Party must regain its equilibrium. Its scorched-earth, win-at-all-costs mentality has secured red-state dominance but made it difficult for moderate Republicans to compete in wide swaths of the country, including New England.

Politics must be about more than just winning the next election. It must be about governing. Moderates help bridge policy gaps, leading to compromise, the way enlightened elected officials once practiced good government.

Washington was a better place when Republican senators such as John Chaffee of Rhode Island, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and Edward Brooke of Massachusetts held sway. Executive power was held accountable and things got done.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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