Rioters clash with police during the insurrection in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rioters clash with police as they try to force entry into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Credit: Lev Radin / Shutterstock

On the anniversary of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, Connecticut Democrats vowed Thursday to make support for Trump a litmus test for Republican candidates in the 2022 elections.

In the year since a mob of his supporters attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election results, the former president has continued to insist without evidence that his defeat at the polls was rigged.

And while the leaders of Connecticut’s Republican party acknowledge the integrity of the last presidential election, state Democrats signaled Thursday they would make support for Trump an issue in 2022 campaigns.

During a morning press call, House Speaker Matt Ritter said Connecticut voters should know whether candidates for state offices support Trump and his continued efforts to undermine the last election. 

“Do they intend to support him? Do they support what he did for the last four years?” Ritter said. “It shouldn’t serve as a litmus test perhaps in other states but I think in a state like Connecticut, it really should because I think our electorate is different and they view what happened on that day and the days leading up to that very, very differently.”

In the past and again in an interview Thursday, state Republican Chairman Ben Proto affirmed the results of the 2020 election, saying, “Joe Biden was elected president, I saw him take the oath of office.” But Proto called the Democrats’ focus on Trump and the riot at the Capitol a distraction. 

“They’re looking backwards in time to try to find a boogeyman while Connecticut Republicans are looking forward as to how we can best help the state of Connecticut,” Proto said. “People don’t vote in the past. They vote for the future and the future for Democrats is dim.”

However, Democrats sought to get Republican positions on both Trump, who has signaled that he may run again in two years, and the last election prior to the primary season this year. National polling has suggested that few Republicans view Biden’s win as legitimate, despite the absence of any evidence of widespread fraud.

Ritter said Republicans were trying to thread a needle with vague comments until after the primaries so they could pivot to moderate positions that could still appeal to general election voters in left-leaning Connecticut.

Speaker of the House Matt Ritter
Screenshot of House Speaker Matt Ritter speaking to reporters via video conference on Jan. 6, 2022. Credit: Screengrab / CTNewsJunkie via video conference

“They know what the polls say. So that’s why the questions are so critical today,” Ritter said. “Because they’re trying to figure out, how do I win a primary, but then be electable in November? And so the comments are very right in the middle and lukewarm but you know, it’s a lot different I bet if you go to a Republican town committee meeting in eastern in Connecticut.”

Soon after Democrats held their press event the Republican leaders of both chambers of the legislature issued statements.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly continued to condemn the violence of last year’s riot. “We must not tolerate violence, and we must together encourage peaceful and respectful civil discourse so the voices of all people are heard,” he said.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, meanwhile, criticized Ritter and other legislative Democrats for embracing “divisive rhetoric” rather than addressing other issues like the ongoing COVID pandemic and public safety concerns.

“Considering this disingenuous campaign stunt today, residents will justifiably wonder how serious the majority party is about unifying our state and developing balanced policies that will make it a better place to live for everyone,” Candelora said.

However, the state Democrats were not alone this week in their concerns that Republicans were growing more radical in Connecticut and elsewhere. During a floor speech Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said that “sensible Republicans” prefer to characterize figures like Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as the fringe of their party. Murphy disagreed.

“She’s the mainstream. She doesn’t believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 election just like seven out of 10 Republican voters. The fact that she’s willing to say the quiet things out loud, it doesn’t make her fringe. It makes her royalty,” Murphy said. “The best-attended Republican event in my state since the 2020 election was an event headlined by Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

But the figure most mentioned by state Democrats Thursday was not Greene, but Madison Republican Bob Stefanowski, the GOP’s nominee in 2018’s gubernatorial race. Stefanowski, who lost the governor’s race to Ned Lamont, is not yet a candidate but is widely believed to be preparing a rematch.

“Call Bob Stefanowski at 10:30 today and say, ‘How do you feel about President Trump?’ and watch him give an answer because he’s afraid he might have a primary that is so different than what he’s going to say on Halloween,” Ritter said.

Stefanowski responded with a statement that affirmed Biden’s election and condemned the violence at last year’s Capitol riot. He said everyone responsible should be held accountable.

“But while we can’t forget the way we all felt that day, President Biden won the election over a year ago,” Stefanowski said. “It’s time to move on from division and hyper-partisanship and work together to provide the people of Connecticut with better public safety, a lower cost of living, and a quality education for their kids.”