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    Friday, February 03, 2023

    Local Republicans have mixed reaction to Trump’s latest run for president

    With Donald Trump’s announcement that he is running for president a third time, Republicans in the region and across the state have adopted a cautious approach to the news, while some have outright repudiated the former president.

    State Republican Party Chair Ben Proto downplayed Trump’s entry into the race on Wednesday, calling the former president “just another candidate.”

    While he didn’t entirely reject Trump as a candidate, Proto said, “We know Donald Trump’s effect in Connecticut…I don’t think there’s any reason to think that’s going to get any better for him.”

    Proto noted that the Republican presidential primary isn’t until April of 2024.

    Trump and the candidates he chose to support were in many cases rejected in last week’s midterm elections, including in Connecticut.

    Republican Senate candidate Leora Levy, who had Trump’s full backing, was soundly defeated by Democrat Richard Blumenthal. And Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, who was endorsed by Trump in 2018, lost again to Democrat Ned Lamont after a campaign where Stefanowski attempted to distance himself from Trump. Joe Courtney beat state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, in Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District race, while state Democrats linked France to Trump and the conservative wing of his party.

    The only president to be impeached twice, Trump is widely criticized for the fact that his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in an apparent coup attempt because they disagreed with the election results. Trump infamously and initially refused to accept his loss to President Joe Biden in 2020. Trump is now subject to federal and state investigations that are looking into Jan. 6 and his attempt to overturn the election, his business, and his possession of secret government documents after leaving office

    Southeastern Connecticut Republicans have largely avoided discussing Trump in years past, arguing that the president has no bearing on local issues. Republican state Senator Heather Somers refused a debate at one point during this past election season because she didn’t want to answer questions about national topics. Somers eventually agreed to a forum focused on local issues. Neither Somers nor France responded to requests for comment about Trump’s entry into the 2024 presidential race .

    Connecticut Democrats have often tried to connect state Republicans to Trump and far-right politics, to the frustration of GOP members.

    “People of your profession thought that the most important question to ask candidates running for the state House and state Senate was their stance on a possible presidential candidate, as opposed to talking to them about issues that are affecting the state or the region that they were covering,” Proto said in an interview with The Day. “There are a lot of other things in this state that we need to worry about other than whether Donald Trump is going to be on a primary ballot in 2024.”

    “I don’t think he does as well in Connecticut should he be on that ballot in April of 2024,” Proto conceded.

    Proto said Republicans liked Trump’s policies and “hated his rhetoric.” He said he welcomes a new generation of GOP politicians, and the party needs to look elsewhere for candidates aside from Trump.

    “Now it’s time to move on…I’m looking forward to our country moving forward,” Proto said.

    State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, does not think Trump should be his party’s chosen presidential candidate.

    “Character and integrity matter in public office. Donald Trump has proven to the people that he lacks the necessary character and integrity to hold such office,” Howard wrote in a statement to The Day. “The Republican Party is loaded with men and women who possess those qualities, as well as the ability to execute good policy for our country; I am confident that one such individual will rise and Republicans will reclaim the White House and the party’s reputation in 2024.”

    State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, expressed a similar view to Howard’s.

    “America needs a new generation of political leadership in both parties, with candidates motivated by a desire to unite the country, rather than indulging in divisive rhetoric and driven by raw political ambition,” Cheeseman wrote in a statement to The Day. “Abraham Lincoln said it best in his first inaugural address: ‘We are not enemies, but friends…The mystic chords of memory... will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ We need presidential candidates who are inspired by the ‘better angels of our nature.’”

    Cheeseman said neither Trump nor Biden “meet this standard.”

    New London Republican Party chair Kat Goulart said she was not entirely opposed to a Trump run.

    “It’s exciting to see activity in the 2024 presidential race. Americans are starved for change in this depressed economy, and now that midterms are over it’s time to begin the conversation,” Goulart wrote in a statement to The Day. “There’s a long way to go up to and through the end of the convention process, and anything can happen. New London Republicans will support the GOP convention winner in the race for president in 2024.”

    State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said another Trump run for president would damage the country and her party.

    “The Republican Party needs to find a positive national message of hope, healing and unity in order to bring the nation together during this heightened divisive time after the January 6th insurrection,” McCarty wrote in a statement to The Day. “Republican leaders who recognize the fragility of democracy and who will work together to restore the sanctity of our constitution and founding principles of our nation.”

    “In other words, the Republican Party needs a renaissance comprised of leaders who speak the truth and who will put the nation above self-serving politics,” McCarty continued. “In my opinion Donald Trump is NOT nor should he ever be the leader of the Republican Party again.’”

    McCarty’s statement stands in stark contrast to state Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, who wrote that, “At this point, nobody knows who the choices for president will be in 2024. But if the choices are Donald Trump and Joe Biden, I can get past the mean tweets and choose Trump over Biden any day.”

    Asked whether he could get past Trump’s supporters staging an insurrection attempt on Jan. 6, and whether Trump’s election denial in 2020 gave him pause, Dubitsky rejected the premise of the questions and called it “partisan nonsense.”

    He equated Jan. 6 to “riots” from “Biden’s supporters,” in reference to Antifa, which is not an organized group but rather a loose association of left-wing activists. Antifa has no proven or direct association to Biden.

    Dubitsky claimed Antifa members occupied the state Capitol of Wisconsin in an attempt to point out Democratic Party hypocrisy. But the 2011 protests in Madison, Wisconsin about former Gov. Scott Walker’s move to essentially end collective bargaining for the majority of the state’s public workers, were peaceful, led by union members, lacked weapons, and were done to protest legislation, not to overturn a presidential election.

    “The whole thing about January 6th, you’re going to blame that on Trump? Even though he told people to go peacefully and patriotically?” Dubitsky said. “I don’t think anybody believes truly that was any type of real insurrection, it was a riot. It was a stupid thing, it was a bad riot, and everybody who was involved in a riot should be punished.”

    Dubitsky also sought to compare Democrats’ court challenges to former President George W. Bush’s election in 2000 to Trump’s election denial in 2020, and added that “Hillary Clinton denied that she lost” in 2016. Conservatives across the country have endeavored to correlate Trump’s election denial with Democrats’ past challenges to election results.

    As for whether Trump’s run will help or hurt state Republicans, “I don’t think it will have all that much of an effect,” Dubitsky said. “I think the Republicans did better when Trump was on the ballot than when he wasn’t.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

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