If the presidential primaries were held right now, Connecticut Republicans would nominate a man who is little more than a strutting pile of neuroses with a hat. At this point, you don’t need me to tell you that something is seriously wrong around here.
The news is fairly grim. According to a recent “>best hope to beat (let’s face it) Hillary Clinton next November. This is almost certainly not true, but no one with any measure of credibility, save perhaps Carly Fiorina, has emerged as an alternative to Trump.
But seeing the massively unqualified and unsuitable Trump doing so well in moderate Connecticut is fairly jarring. After all, this is the home of old-school Republicans like Jodi Rell and George H. W. Bush, where the kind of nativist rhetoric Trump spews doesn’t often take hold. And yet, when you take a look at the numbers, Trump does quite well with the moderate/liberal wing of the Connecticut GOP, scoring 38 percent. Nobody else even comes close. Trump even does fairly well with people with college degrees — 28 percent of them support him, again more than any candidate.
Compare this to a similar poll taken in March, before Trump got into the race, which had Jeb Bush and Scott Walker leading the pack. Bush has since fallen to a distant fourth, while Walker dropped out of the race. That just underscores that Trump running for president this year was the equivalent of rolling a live grenade into a cocktail party.
There’s a lot of theories for why Trump’s managed to stay popular. To me, it seems like a toxic mix of white Americans’ paranoia about our place in the world, anger and worry about their own place within America, white-hot hatred of both President Obama and the Republican “establishment,” delight in infuriating liberals and tweedy authority figures, a thirst for something that’s real and genuine, and the hateful blood sport national politics has turned into. There’s almost certainly more there, such as the fact that Trump is rich, has a huge platform outside of mainstream media, and is charismatic in the right situations, but that’s the gist of it.
What the Quinnipiac Poll shows is that there really aren’t any geographic limitations on this mix of things that draws people to Trump. Connecticut’s elected Republicans are still a fairly moderate bunch by what are admittedly pretty low national standards, but their voters are rapidly moving in a very different direction.
That’s a problem. The Connecticut Republican Party has been drifting rightward for a long time, but actual conservatives are way out in front of the party that supposedly represents them. What we’re seeing here is a party intent on charging headfirst into the wilderness, chasing after the loyalty of a shrinking but increasingly vocal and powerful group on the extreme right. Basically, what’s happening nationally is happening here, too. We weren’t insulated from it after all.
Should this party wrest control of either house of the Connecticut legislature in 2016 or 2018 from an ailing and listless Democratic Party, they’re going to find it almost impossible to govern, just like the GOP majorities down in Washington, DC. The hard right and the moderate right hate one another so much that nothing will get done.
I feel like at some point this has to break. There’s so much bad blood in the GOP that it’s getting easier to think what was once unthinkable — that the party might just come apart at the seams.
Maybe that would be for the best. This state desperately needs a cohesive center right opposition, and the unpopularity of the GOP in Connecticut and that party’s ongoing meltdown make it very difficult for the Republicans to fill that role.
Maybe Trump is the one who will actually break it. Maybe he’s just a symptom, a warning of how things will shake out in the years to come. Who knows?
But what does seem clear is that Trump’s appeal here in Connecticut will have ripple effects that we’re going to feel for years. For better or for worse, this feels like a moment when things are changing.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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