Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Warning signs all over landscape

- Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor of the Connecticu­t Post and New Haven Register. He can be reached at hbailey@hearstmedi­

Late October is sign season in Connecticu­t. Placards around the state urge voters to support candidates for planning and zoning or board of assessment appeals, with names most people have probably never heard and will never remember come Election Day. Most voting, even for important local positions, tends to be based on party, not individual.

That’s mostly fine in local elections. The opposing candidate for board of finance isn’t likely to, say, upend democracy. In the bigger picture, it causes some trouble.

The signs in some corners of Connecticu­t speak to that bigger picture. Where I live, there are plenty of Trump 2020 flags still flying, some replaced by Trump 2024. One house has a variation on an old favorite that reads: “Don’t blame us! We voted for Trump,” which is a step up from fellow supporters of the 45th president in that it acknowledg­es that a non-Trump winner was declared in 2020.

The real groundbrea­kers are signs that read “Fix 2020 First.” This one, a direct quote from a statement the former president made on Labor Day, repeats the lie that the 2020 election was stolen by Joe Biden and Democrats, who at the same time apparently forgot to steal a few more Senate seats to give themselves a comfortabl­e majority rather than resting their agenda on what some guy in West Virginia wants.

There is, it bears repeating, nothing from 2020 that needs fixing. Every count, recount and audit has proven that much. Even an off-the-rails accounting of the Arizona vote run by full-on conspiracy theorists recently found that Joe Biden won the state, comfortabl­y. The only argument that 2020 was stolen is the word of the former president himself, which is the kind of thing we’ve seen throughout history in totalitari­an countries. It doesn’t matter what the facts say, only what the leader says.

This would be less concerning and probably a little sad were it not for the overwhelmi­ng support the former president retains within his party. Every poll shows the 2024 Republican nomination is basically his if he wants it. Because we have a two-party system and getting the most votes doesn’t necessaril­y translate into a victory, that means decent odds the man could be president again in a few years. It matters what he says and does.

This is the part where one takes great pains to point out that Not Every Republican is on board with all this. There are plenty of party stalwarts, especially in places like practical Connecticu­t, who just want low taxes and a hands-off government and don’t favor things like an attack on the U.S. Capitol. Duly noted.

Still, they are in the minority. Some six in 10 Republican­s consistent­ly say they want the two-time popular-vote loser to again lead their ticket come 2024. Whereas previous presidenti­al losers have been treated like anywhere from a joke to a pariah, Trump has avoided that fate simply by refusing to concede defeat. Can’t be a loser if you never really lost, he seems to be saying, and it’s apparently working.

What does all this mean in comfortabl­y blue Connecticu­t? It’d be tempting to say “nothing,” since few Republican­s on the November ballot have tied their campaigns closely with the former president. But it doesn’t work that way. Trump is the undisputed leader of his party and few of those same local candidates have felt the need to speak out against him. Like most of the political establishm­ent, many Connecticu­t Republican­s seem to be hoping he just goes away at some point.

Others are fully on board. This includes anyone running for school board this year on an anti-Critical Race Theory platform, which is full-on Trumpism by another name and whose adherents have found enthusiast­ic support. And if history is any indication, the vast majority of Republican­s will vote for whoever the party’s 2024 candidate ends up being.

You can act like all this is just so much hyperventi­lating, but that requires forgetting everything that happened between 2017 and 2021. It also means ignoring the many steps that have been taken to ensure that what didn’t work in attempting to hold onto power in January is more successful next time.

To act like none of this matters is, instead, to take an enormous risk. He was president once and could be again. His ravings can’t be laughed off or ignored; Stop the Steal is a farce, but it is not far-fetched to think it could one day have the force of law — the president says the election was stolen, and therefore it was.

What would be helpful would be for everyone — not just the people with the yard signs, but those running for office, including those who would like to be governor next year — to take this seriously. An attempt to use force to stop the peaceful transfer of power wasn’t enough, so it’s hard to know what it would take. But the danger is real.

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