Trump’s campaign trail brings CT ‘fatigue’

After setbacks in three consecutive election cycles, Connecticut Republicans on Tuesday faced the likelihood that their party’s de facto poster child, former President Donald Trump, will stay on for at least one more national campaign.

“Given the fact that 60 percent of Connecticut residents don’t support him, I think he’s a burden of every ticket for the Republican Party,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.

While elected Republicans in the State House and Senate generally took a more lukewarm stance toward the former president than the party’s voters, Candelora noted that during the 2016 GOP primary, a few still emerged to support Trump. He said he is not aware of any members of his faction planning to back Trump again.

“What I generally hear is fatigue,” Candelora said.

The former part-time resident of Greenwich, Connecticut, hit his all-time high on his first run in 2016, when he garnered 40 percent of the vote as Republicans made modest gains in the state general election. However, in each of the two subsequent elections held under his presidency, Republicans lost ground in Hartford without compromising Democrat control of state and federal offices.

In Westbrook — one of over two dozen Connecticut towns that supported Trump in 2016 before voting for now-President Joe Biden four years later when Trump was ousted from office — Republican Town Committee Chairman Harry Ruppenicker said Jr. that local attitudes toward Trump have largely deteriorated, despite continued support for his economic policies.

“Most of the local Republicans I speak to just want to move on, even some of his biggest supporters,” Ruppenicker said, noting Trump’s penchant for derogatory nicknames and, prior to his ban from the platform, his controversial use of tweets.

Ruppenicker also said that Trump has shown poor judgment in picking candidates who cannot win the general election race, pointing to Themis Klarides, a former House GOP leader, as an example of a more moderate Republican who supports his opinion would have represented a greater challenge for Blumenthal. Klarides — a 2016 Trump delegate who later harshly criticized the 45th president — lost to Trump-backed Leora Levy in an August US Senate primary.

Ruppenicker added that other potential candidates with a proven track record of winning elections, namely Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have caught the attention of Republican voters.

Connecticut Republicans had hoped to make gains this year by running against an unpopular Biden and using high inflation and energy prices as their main messages. Instead, they were once again banned from the top races while ceding to Democrats in areas like Greenwich, once a bedrock of Republican support.

In the Senate race, Levy lost decisively to Senator Richard Blumenthal, a well-known critic of the former president.

As if to reiterate Republicans’ unease with Trump, Democrats on Tuesday expressed confidence they would benefit should the former president appear on the ballots in 2024.

“I have no problem with that,” said Nancy DiNardo, the chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party. “I think it’s going to be an interesting fight on the Republican side that can only help the Democrats.”

DiNardo was quick to add that her only concern about Trump running again is that “he has a tendency to incite violence.”

When asked about Trump’s widely speculated announcement Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont said voters had already shown their dislike of Trump in the election.

“I think the American people are ready to turn the page for themselves,” Lamont said. “I think you saw that last Tuesday. But he’s the former President of the United States and he’s going to make an announcement.”

Ben Proto, who assumed leadership of the Connecticut Republican Party after his predecessor resigned at the US Capitol in the days after the Jan. 6 riot, tried to downplay the possibility of another Trump ticket on Tuesday. He noted that other candidates vying for the party’s nomination in 2024 would give Republicans options.

“There will be people who are critics, yes, and there will also be people who are supporters, just like any candidate,” Proto said.

When asked if Trump’s decision to interfere in this year’s midterms was having a negative impact on Connecticut’s Republican candidates, Proto said that “many factors” were affecting the results and that the lower turnout could also be taken as a sign of voters’ dissatisfaction with Democrats.

The party’s standard-bearer in this year’s election, Bob Stefanowski, offered a different assessment last week after losing to Lamont in the gubernatorial race by a larger margin than he did in 2018, when he ran with Trump’s support. This time, Stefanowski largely avoided any mention of Trump.

In a radio interview the morning after the election, Stefanowski said he believes “the Republican brand is a little bruised right now,” noting that the party has been swept up in federal elections across New England. Stefanowski did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s announcement on Tuesday.

Candelora said the controversy surrounding Trump has tended to obscure the former president’s achievements, particularly on the economy and tax cuts. He predicted that, despite their fatigue, elected Republicans in Connecticut would be able to weather another Trump campaign without suffering more crippling casualties.

“By and large, Republicans survived him being on the ticket in 2020,” Candelora said. “We continue to survive.”