Say you’re a Connecticut Republican, and you want to run for Congress. Great! That’s fantastic. In fact, there’s even been a little buzz about your sort lately, what with Dr. William Petit thinking of joining the field in the 5th District. But it’s not going to be easy. In the post-shutdown political world, Republicans are even less popular around here than usual. Before you start raising money and buying yard signs, let me give you some advice.
1. Start disavowing the national GOP now. You can never be too early or too strident with this. In the last 30 years or so, the only really successful Republicans in this state have figured out where and when to break with the ever-more-unpalatable conservatism of the party as it exists west of the Hudson, and used it to paint themselves as independents. We love independents here, or so we tell everyone.
2. Don’t disavow too much, though. If you do, you’ll get a primary challenger and have to face the cranky, surly, right-wing troll brigade. Nobody wants to deal with them.
Therefore, stand with the Republican Party, but don’t stand so close that you get any of it on you. There is a sweet spot somewhere, but no one has any idea where it is.
3. Adhere to conservative principles. Who is going to vote for a person with no principles? And conservative principles are obviously a good place to start, especially if you actually have them. The right wing loves that, and they will give you money.
But if you’re too conservative inside, hide it. Your conservatism could end up being a liability, you knuckle-dragger! If you feel a certain way about the gays, want to wave “IMPEACH OBAMA” signs, or think that invading countries just for kicks is cool, you might want to keep that to yourself. Now is a good time to check and see if you’ve sent out any of those email forwards lately. You know the ones I mean.
Basically, if you don’t have conservative principles, fake them. If you do have conservative principles, hide them. This is known as the “Simmons/Roraback maneuver,” and it doesn’t work anymore.
4. Stake out positions early and stick to them. It’s really great when voters know what you stand for!
On the other hand, any time you take a position someone will attack you for being a knuckle-dragging conservative with ties to the Republican Party. In Utah, this would be a sign that you’re winning. But in Connecticut, it means you’re doomed.
Better to say as little as possible. “Taxes are ruining business” is pretty much the only safe subject. Stick to that.
5. When someone brings up the shutdown or the debt ceiling fight, change the subject. Quickly. Say that if you’d been in Congress then, you would have called in sick.
In fact, if the media tries to figure out how you might vote on things, suggest that you can’t possibly know until you’re in the thick of it. That’s what being an independent-minded representative is all about! You don’t want to interfere with democracy, do you?
6. Remember, the media is the enemy. Deride them whenever possible, so that when they run stories about how ogrish you are, you can say they had it in for you. Maybe write a long newspaper screed, make a YouTube video, or go on talk radio to complain about how awful the media is. The more epic your meltdown, the more money you’ll raise from Internet nuts.
7. Don’t put the word “Republican” on your lawn signs.
8. Reach out to women. Try to surround yourself with a coterie of non-threatening Republican women wherever you go. If you can lure M. Jodi Rell out of retirement to endorse you, better yet. If you happen to be female, which you probably aren’t, then put your first name in big letters on your signs so everybody knows it. Issue tote bags with “Women for ____” on them, in pink cursive script with flowers. When asked about what the national party’s been doing when it comes to women and minorities, claim ignorance.
9. Lastly, have you thought about looking for another party? Republicans are really unpopular around here these days. No Republican has come close since Chris Shays lost in 2008, and if the national GOP keeps doing what they’re doing, things aren’t getting better any time soon.
I hear the Whigs have an opening.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.