Repub­li­cans’ bad year could get much worse

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Ct Opinion - Kevin Ren­nie is a lawyer and a for­mer Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tor. He can be reached at kfren­[email protected]­ KEVIN REN­NIE

You could for­give Con­necti­cut Repub­li­cans for think­ing it’s 536 A.D. That was the worst year to be alive, ac­cord­ing to his­to­ri­ans and sci­en­tists, The Times news­pa­per of Lon­don re­ported Tues­day. A vol­cano in Ice­land sent a vast cloud of ash over Eu­rope, the Mid­dle East and some of Asia. The sun re­fused to shine through, crops died, tem­per­a­tures plunged, two more erup­tions fol­lowed and the bubonic plague was not far be­hind.

Vot­ers on Nov. 6 shut out Repub­li­cans from statewide of­fice again and culled the ranks of Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors in a year that had be­gun with sunny op­ti­mism. Gov.-elect Ned La­mont has stated there’s a place for Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive lead­ers at his ta­ble of talk. There’s no rea­son to doubt La­mont’s in­ten­tions, but what Repub­li­cans know is that when the fi­nal painful agree­ments are reached the Democrats will have their way.

Repub­li­cans will have to de­cide if they want to make some ap­peal­ing con­tri­bu­tions to leg­is­la­tion that they find un­palat­able over­all. They did, af­ter all, shape a bi­par­ti­san bud­get in 2017 that ap­pears to be hit­ting its tar­gets with­out re­quir­ing a tax in­crease. La­mont has promised no in­come or sales tax boosts, so the Repub­li­cans pos­sess ex­pe­ri­ence he might be able to put to good use.

The math, how­ever, re­mains cruel for Repub­li­cans who thought they would be in the ma­jor­ity when the leg­is­la­ture con­venes in Jan­uary. It is a bit­ter re­sult that will be dif­fi­cult to re­verse in 2020. The Repub­li­cans face a lethal re­al­ity. The re­buke Con­necti­cut vot­ers ad­min­is­tered to Don­ald Trump landed on them. Take state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wil­ton. She’s a vet­eran leg­is­la­tor ac­cus­tomed to win­ning by large mar­gins in her 10 years in the Se­nate. In 2016, when Hil­lary Clin­ton won the sev­en­town Fair­field County district by 20 points, Boucher was re-elected with a hefty 12,000 vote mar­gin. That meant thou­sands of vot­ers split their tick­ets. Not this year. Boucher lost to 22-year-old Will Haskell, a West­port Demo­crat. Boucher was one of four in­cum­bent Se­nate Repub­li­cans to lose.

Boucher has been a busy, du­ti­ful leg­is­la­tor. Noth­ing she her­self did in the past two years would have in­vited her reversal of for­tune. Haskell worked hard, cer­tainly, but he alone could not have cre­ated the district’s dra­matic change. Only Trump could ac­com­plish that, and the loath­some dem­a­gogue did. Thou­sands of new vot­ers, or vot­ers who of­ten skip off-year elec­tions, showed up on Elec­tion Day and voted for Democrats.

If they were an­gry this year, when Trump was not on the bal­lot, pre­pare for their right­eous fury if he runs for re-elec­tion in 2020. It may not mat­ter what La­mont does in his first two years as gover­nor or what bril­liant ideas state leg­isla­tive Repub­li­cans muster. They will find it im­pos­si­ble to break­through the pub­lic’s fo­cus on Trump and his ran­cid an­tics.

In the past week, the pres­i­dent launched a nasty at­tack on the com­man­der of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. He seemed to blame re­tired Adm. Wil­liam McRaven for not get­ting the Saudi ter­ror­ist sooner. But it’s the CIA that was re­spon­si­ble for find­ing Bin Laden, the Navy SEALs un­der McRaven’s com­mand suc­cess­fully took him out in one at­tempt. A pres­i­dent, even one so of­ten feel­ing petu­lant in pub­lic, ought to know the dif­fer­ence.

Trump also caught the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion with com­ments about the lethal Cal­i­for­nia fires. He made some strange com­ments about the Finns rak­ing for­est floors that dom­i­nated the news for sev­eral days. On Tues­day of a short hol­i­day week, Trump is­sued an ap­palling state­ment par­don­ing the Saudi gov­ern­ment for the grue­some mur­der of Amer­i­can res­i­dent and Saudi cit­i­zen Ja­mal Khashoggi in Turkey. It is an­other step into a state of law­less­ness.

Repub­li­cans re­main mostly silent in the face of the cir­cus that never leaves town and then won­der how so many de­feats have be­fallen them. “If a man in­cites him­self to drown, and will not re­strain him­self, it is not the wa­ter’s fault,” wrote the English poet John Gower. Many Repub­li­cans are afraid to crit­i­cize what they know is atro­cious but ap­peals to a sig­nif­i­cant tranche of the party faith­ful who vote in pri­maries.

This should have been the Repub­li­cans’ year in Con­necti­cut. Their in­abil­ity to over­come vot­ers’ hos­til­ity to Trump con­signs them to the wilder­ness for four more years or un­til even the wilder­ness will not have them.

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