Is former President Donald Trump poised to be a major factor in state politics this year or just a “shiny thing” spotlighted by Democrats to avoid issues they don’t want to talk about?
A day after his endorsement of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leora Levy was widely seen as a key to her primary win on Tuesday, leaders of both parties had polar-opposite views of the role Trump will play in the run-up to the November elections.
“It’s the old adage of, you know, the shiny thing – let’s distract the voters from the real issues because we all know what the real issues are,” state Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto told reporters on an afternoon conference call organized by the national party. “Joe Biden, Dick Blumenthal and Ned Lamont do not want to talk about those issues because they know they’re wrong on them. That’s all they’re trying to do with Trump is distract voters from the real issues that are impacting voters day in and day out,” especially the cost of living.
Proto’s remarks came a few hours after Democratic Gov. Lamont held a press conference in which he stressed that Trump will absolutely be a focus of the election, and will help energize Democrats in this typically blue state.
“Our Republican opponents like to say Donald Trump is not on the ballot this November, but I think somebody forgot to tell Donald Trump that,” Lamont said. “He’s front and center on the ballot. I think you heard that from Leora Levy last night when she thanked Donald Trump for getting her over the finish line.”
Buoyed by multiple endorsements from Trump over the past week, Levy defeated party-endorsed favorite Themis Klarides by a 51 to 40 percent margin to win the nomination to run against Democratic incumbent Blumenthal.
Levy had touted the endorsement for days, and was effusive in her praise of Trump in her victory speech, saying that in return for his support “I won’t let you down, Mr. President.”
But Proto did not budge when pressed by reporters in Wednesday’s media call from his stance that Trump is basically irrelevant in state politics.
“That’s like saying Barack Obama’s on the ballot because he’s a former president and Republicans don’t like him,” he said. “So if you think voters are looking around saying gee, I don’t like Donald Trump so I’m not going to vote for a Republican even though Joe Biden and Dick Blumenthal and Ned Lamont are costing me a fortune and making it unaffordable for me to live here and are causing me to not be able to take care of my family, then I think you’re underestimating voters.”
Lamont’s Republican challenger, Bob Stefanowski, also weighed in with a written statement.
“Expect Governor Lamont to continue to do what he did this morning, put politics over people, focusing on imaginary election ballots rather than the person in Connecticut who can’t afford to buy groceries today or the family who will go to bed tonight worried that they will be the next victim of an unprecedented crime wave in Connecticut,” he said.
Lamont, however, was steadfast in his belief that Trump and the divisiveness he so often engenders will be on the minds of voters as they go to the polls this fall.
“We believe that you bring people together,” he said. “You respect the diversity of the people we have. You respect who they are. Don’t tear them apart. That’s what Donald Trump does and that’s what we’re not going to let happen in the State of Connecticut. Not for the next 90 days and not for the next four years.”
An afternoon Tweet from the state Democratic Party took the debate a step further in urging Republicans disaffected by Trump’s involvement in state politics to join the other team. “The MAGA takeover of the CT Republican Party is complete,” the post read. “They just nominated those who say Jan 6th was “legitimate political discourse” & the rioters were “patriots…fighting for what is right.” It’s time for Republicans who reject this to leave the party.”