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    Op-Ed
    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Tough to be a Republican in blue Connecticut

    If it wasn't already hard enough to be Republican in deep blue Connecticut, GOP political candidates here must swim upstream against the strong, steady current of omnipresent Donald Trump and his mounting legal woes.

    With each announcement of new criminal indictments against him, Trump's popularity among many Republican voters, incredibly, seems strengthened, not weakened. Go figure.

    That phenomenon isn't as prevalent here in Connecticut as it is in red states, but Trump still has a significant, blindly loyal following even in liberal states. For their part, some other Republicans - including many running for office here - readily distance themselves from the controversial former president.

    That puts Republican state and local candidates in a tricky position during campaign season when they are asked - some say unfairly - if they support Trump. If they condemn him, they may placate moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters, but risk losing conservatives. Defend Trump, and they risk the opposite outcome. They must walk a fine line, but it's a steep climb.

    Yes, Trump is a flawed demagogue and lots of other things, but were Democratic candidates asked if they supported Bill Clinton after he lied to the nation about his affair with a White House intern, not to mention his other peccadilloes after they became public? As Joe Biden's approval ratings hit record lows and he regularly shows signs of cognitive slippage, does anyone ask Democrats if they still support the president? A CNN poll last year showed 75 percent of surveyed Democrats and those leaning Democrat wanted someone other than Biden to be their party's nominee for president. Yet were Democratic candidates having microphones shoved in their faces and being asked if they support Biden?

    It's not really a fair or relevant question in either case, but some reporters and even some voters ask anyway. Trump's transgressions, or for that matter, Clinton's or Biden's, have little if anything to do with state or local politics. If the media want to know how candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives feel about their national party's standard bearer, that's fair game.

    However, what impact do Trump or Biden have on the ability of state senators, representatives, city councilors, selectmen, or even local school board members to perform their duties at the state or local levels? None.

    Still, as we approach this year's municipal elections, the Trump effect makes the challenge of running for office that much harder for Republican candidates and the party leaders recruiting them.

    In heavily Democratic New London, Mayor Michael Passero, a Democrat, will win re-election to his third four-year term this year in a three-way race against little-known opponents from the Republican and Green parties. Republicans hold exactly zero seats on the seven-member city council and board of education. At their caucus last month, they nominated a candidate for mayor, five candidates for city council and four for board of education. Of those, only the candidate for mayor and one for city council are legitimate; all the others were nominated as "placeholders" who would not campaign, win, or serve. That's unacceptable.

    In the City of Groton, it's even worse. Republicans there couldn't find anyone in time for their caucus last month to oppose Democratic Mayor Keith Hedrick and his party's full slate of candidates for city council and city clerk. There's another punch in the gut for local democracy. Ironically, until the early 1980s, it was the GOP that controlled Groton city government. Not anymore, though.

    At the state level, Republican State Chairman Ben Proto recently acknowledged the Trump factor makes it more difficult to secure large contributions to the party.

    "The upside is we're seeing more small contributors - you know, the $25, $30, $50 contributors who are responding to our email requests, text message requests, our mail requests, things like that," Proto told The Connecticut Mirror. "When I go and talk to major donors, there is a concern among the major donors about Trump and about the direction of the party, the direction of the country."

    It wasn't always like this. Republicans in Connecticut and other states rode Ronald Reagan's long coattails in his 1984 landslide to wrest control of both legislative chambers. The bloodletting was so bad that popular and powerful James J. Murphy, D-Franklin, a seven-term incumbent and president pro tempore of the state Senate, was unseated by GOP newcomer Eric Benson, widely considered a sacrificial candidate.

    Two years later, however, Benson and many other Republican one-term wonders were unseated when Democrats had U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd and Gov. William A. O'Neill at the top of the state ticket and took back control of the General Assembly. Once back in power, Democrats did away with the party lever that was blamed in part for the 1984 massacre.

    Even without the party lever, Trump remains an albatross for Republicans in liberal states. It may not be fair and it may not be good for bipartisan democracy, but as Walter Cronkite used to say years ago at the close of his nightly newscasts: "That's the way it is."

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