Republicans in Connecticut have long perfected the art of holding two contradictory thoughts in their minds at once: they are Republicans, but they are also not Republicans, if you know what I mean.
It’s a convenient way of thinking, and it serves them well. Maybe it serves all of us well. Here are all these folks, these friends and neighbors, these decent and kind people, whose political party both is and isn’t the monster down in D.C. enabling a dangerous loose cannon of a president as he — and they — gleefully undermine small-d democratic norms.
The thinking goes that Connecticut’s Republicans are more moderate, less ideological, and far less reckless than the ones sitting in Washington or in legislatures elsewhere in the country, and yet are still part of the same political party. That all has to do with the state’s deep Republican roots, going back to the time when fairly liberal, business-friendly northeastern Republicans held sway in the national party. The current state party is a mix of clean-cut leftovers from those days, flinty old-school yankees, and more radical movement conservatives.
This is definitely convenient, if not always effective. Republicans can both try to appeal to more moderate Connecticut voters and also to their own small but vocal core of hardliners. This is also how they have managed to survive in a climate that has often been hostile territory for the GOP; they walk a delicate tightrope between rallying their base and wooing moderates frustrated with Democratic mismanagement of the state’s finances. It sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.
It’s not always a happy arrangement, either. Moderate Republicans such as Andrew Roraback and John McKinney are less and less welcome. The last Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, often seemed to be in a completely different party than legislative Republicans.
Still, the tactic of simultaneously embracing and ignoring the national party has managed to get the state GOP through everything from the Iraq War to Obama’s victory and up through the rise of Trump.
And now here they are, on the cusp of power, and suddenly this act has worn thin.
Republicans in Connecticut could be about to have their best year since 1994, when John Rowland won the governorship and the GOP captured — briefly — the state senate. The governor’s seat is open, to be vacated by a much-disliked Democrat in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Republicans have steadily been making gains in the legislature for the past few elections, and currently enjoy a 50-50 split in the state senate. Connecticut’s agonizing fiscal crisis has soured voters on the Democrats, and Republicans are trying to position themselves as a responsible, budget-conscious alternative.
That’s where the national party becomes impossible to ignore.
See, this week the Republicans in D.C. passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax system. It was rushed through committee, rushed into a vote, was being scribbled on and changed right up until the vote itself in the U.S. Senate. It never got a proper hearing, and many of the Republicans who voted for it had no idea what was actually in the bill.
To make matters worse, it’s an unbelievably reckless piece of legislation. The tax rate on businesses will be slashed to 21 percent, and individual tax cuts will have a much greater proportional impact on the wealthy. The bill explodes the deficit and racks up debt without offering anything but the hope of an economic bonanza to help plug the hole.
In short, the rich are making out like bandits, and they’re bankrupting the country to do it. It’s obscene.
Connecticut Republicans, guardians of fiscal discipline, are you okay with this?
Would you have voted for this bill, or something like it?
Would you do something similar here in Connecticut?
The answer matters. Republicans in Congress have abandoned any pretense of adulthood or responsibility to go swim in Scrooge McDuck’s money bin — surely you don’t want to do the same. Surely you wouldn’t forfeit the future of the state by creating a massive deficit, right? That’s what you quite justifiably accuse Democrats of doing.
In my mind this is a very simple test. Creating a massive program of spending — and let’s be clear, that’s what tax cuts are —
without any way to pay for it is a recipe for disaster. Do you support these tax “reforms,” or not?
If you do, you are not fit to govern.
I’ll be waiting for the answer. And when I get it, I have a few more questions — about Donald Trump.
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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