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Connecticut Republicans: Time again for the Trump test

For the 2016 election I asked readers to play along with a little political game, asking Republican candidates here in blue Connecticut whether they support the presidential candidate at the head of their ticket.

It's called the Trump test.

Well, it's time to play again, and this year, with Donald Trump clinging to his racism and defending the relevancy of the Confederacy as the country goes through a cultural sea change on race, the stakes are higher.

Most eastern Connecticut candidates endorsed Trump in 2016 and flunked the test. Some of them, like Trump, won their races and are still with us. Others are no longer in office.

The endorsement question, a longtime political tradition, made most Connecticut Republicans squirm in 2016. One refused to answer.

This is how I wrapped up the game, after the 2016 vote: "Congratulations to those who won here. And know we will remember, for better or for worse, your support for candidate Trump when we see how President Trump governs. You own him."

Connecticut Republicans did well that year. But the anti-Trump backlash in 2018 elections hit the GOP hard here, snatching away any hope of a majority in the General Assembly.

I don't need to go far out on a limb to predict a trouncing in 2020 voting.

And the Trumpist who chairs the Connecticut Republican Party will eventually get the blame and the boot, as the country settles into a much-deserved post-Trump world, in which the healing can begin.

Back in 2016, there were some brave Republican Trump renouncers in Connecticut, most notably Chris Shays, the former 4th District congressman.

Former 2nd District Rep. Rob Simmons tried to avoid the Trump test, saying he was keeping his "powder dry." Then he couldn't help himself at a big animated rally full of Trump fans, shouting out: "Let's give him four years to see if he can make a change!"

The most tortured endorsement came from Republican state Sen. Heather Somers of Groton, who requested a correction from The Day after the newspaper quoted her saying she endorsed Donald Trump. She said she referred to him as the party's candidate but never actually spoke his name.

Some of the towns in Somers' sprawling district went for Trump in 2016, but some didn't.

I don't think her recent attempt to walk that red-blue tightrope, during a radio interview, went so well after she repeatedly called George Floyd "Mr. George" and referred to the national unrest that immediately followed his death as "these actions, this darkness, I'll put it that way, coming across our nation."

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano pointedly and commendably refused to endorse Trump in 2016 when asked. He's off the hook, not on the ballot this year.

Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme also appeared to agonize over the question.

When I first asked him on a phone call, he laughed and asked for some time to think about it.

Finally, he took the endorsement plunge during a debate, but grudgingly.

"Mr. Trump is certainly a bit unpolished," Sen. Formica said, in the greatest understatement of the event, "but he has tapped into a discontent."

I think it would take less courage in 2020 to renounce the head of your ticket as he gives cover to the white nationalists of the party. He plans to accept the party's nomination in Jacksonville, Fla., on the 60th anniversary of a brutal Ku Klux Klan attack in that city known as "Ax Handle Saturday."

Still, I expect many Connecticut Republicans won't renounce.

More will, incredibly, try to argue it doesn't matter whether they support the candidate who leads their political party.

I trust no Democrat would renounce or refuse to endorse the head of their ticket.

This is hardly Trump country. Hillary Clinton carried New London County in 2016, 50.6% to 43.8%.

The Trump test should be even more interesting this year.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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