Imagine if this was a normal time. It’s hard to remember what that was like, I know, but just close your eyes and try. And now imagine that a major political party’s nominee for Congress is accused of violent domestic abuse, an accusation that was known – but not acted on in any way – by top-level officials, including the party chair. In normal times, those officials would all be pressured into resigning by furious party members.
Well, these aren’t normal times, and the party in question is the Trump-infected Connecticut Republican Party. They’re going to shrug it off and pretend nothing ever happened. No consequences will befall party chairman JR Romano or anyone else. We’ll be distracted by the presidential campaign soon enough, and forget all about it.
I won’t forget. You shouldn’t, either. But we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought the Party of Personal Responsibility was going to own up to this mess.
Here’s how it shook out.
Last week Thomas Gilmer, a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney, was arrested on felony charges stemming from a 2017 domestic violence incident with his then-girlfriend. Gilmer, who had been endorsed by the party, withdrew from the race the morning of the primary.
He still won the race by a very narrow margin, thanks in part to a large number of absentee votes cast before the arrest and Gilmer’s withdrawal.
That’s bad enough. But then it turned out that Gilmer’s opponent, Justin Anderson, had been sharing a video with Republican leaders that documented part of the assault. The victim, who had given the video to Anderson, said she didn’t want it to go to police because she was afraid for her safety, but she did authorize him to show it to party leadership because she wanted them to know what kind of man Gilmer was.
Party chairman JR Romano knew about the video as early as May. So, apparently, did other high-level Republican officials. Horrified, they immediately confronted Gilmer and forced him out of the race, told everything they knew to the police, and moved quickly to protect the victim.
Ha! I’m kidding, of course. They didn’t do anything. They were content to let the race play out, only bothering to clutch their pearls when the truth was revealed.
This is all especially interesting given that when then-Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th, was accused of knowing and doing nothing about a staffer who punched, threatened and sexually harassed female staff in her office, Romano called on her to resign. In an April 6, 2018, blast email to supporters, the state Republican Party said that Esty had “betrayed the residents of Connecticut,” and stated that “… it is obvious that Elizabeth Esty should resign (even though she refuses to do so), and she should donate her remaining cash on hand of $1.4 million dollars.”
Another email, dated March 30, 2018, said in big, bold, purple letters: “While Elizabeth Esty may not stand up for women, we will.”
So yes, this is very bad. The state Republican Party not only failed to act to prevent a violent domestic abuser from becoming their party’s nominee, but they were exposed as hypocrites who only care about the rights and safety of women when they can use them to attack Democrats. Prominent Republicans, such as Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Rob Simmons, who formerly held that seat in Congress, both of whom didn’t know about the video, professed their horror and called on Romano to resign.
I doubt he will, though.
This would ordinarily be a bad move. Who is going to vote for a party that not only ignores domestic abuse, but actually enables abusers by endorsing them for Congress? But that’s not how things work now. It’s become clear that the state party is in no way interested in actually electing Republicans to office.
I’m not sure what they do besides raise money, rile up their supporters with awful email blasts, and hold the planet’s whitest party once a year. Romano is chief among the Republicans who have embraced the combativeness, phony outrage, and absolute aversion to taking responsibility of President Donald Trump. The fact that this is one of our two major parties is an embarrassment to democracy.
I hope Romano surprises us and resigns. But on the off chance he doesn’t, voters should crush his party in November. That won’t wake them up, of course, but it may make us all feel a little better.
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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