Republicans have been optimistic about their chances of making gains in the U.S. Senate this fall or perhaps even gaining control in the upper chamber. But a couple of races in the Northeast demonstrate just how grave the party’s problems have become. If Republicans had even a semblance of statewide party organization or talent, they might have had a chance to knock off Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, an undistinguished freshman whose transformation from moderate to liberal has attracted little notice since her surprise appointment to replace Hillary Clinton. But there is no New York Republican Party, so the little-known Gillibrand will skate to re-election this fall. But as infuriating as the utter collapse of a once vibrant New York GOP may be, in some ways the party’s dilemma in Connecticut is even worse.
It’s true that the Constitution State is as deep blue as New York and the rest of New England. But Republicans might have had a fighting chance to snatch the open seat that Joe Lieberman is leaving this fall. The likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Chris Murphy, is favored but is eminently beatable. But instead of nominating a Republican who might have a chance to steal a blue state seat, state Republicans are likely to choose a candidate in tomorrow’s primary who isn’t much more likely to be sworn in next January than Wendy Long, the New York GOP’s sacrificial lamb, who will be slaughtered by Gillibrand. Linda McMahon is probably going to be the GOP winner in Connecticut tomorrow. That will be no reason for anyone, Republican or Democrat, to celebrate.
McMahon entered politics two years ago when she used the massive fortune she and her husband earned as the impresarios of the World Wrestling Federation to win the Republican nomination while claiming to be a Tea Party supporter for the open seat being left behind by Democrat Chris Dodd. McMahon spent tens of millions but was still buried by Democrat Richard Blumenthal in November. One could say that if a Republican with a huge financial edge couldn’t beat a Democrat who was caught lying about his military service in a year in which the GOP won a midterm landslide then perhaps Connecticut is just a lost cause for the party.
But Blumenthal’s victory was as much the result of general disdain by the voters for a newly minted politician whose sole qualification was her role in building a business most of them rightly considered shady if not entirely disreputable. McMahon’s well-funded campaign was as much a sham as the fake wrestling her company promoted, but Connecticut Republicans desperate for a candidate with money embraced her in 2010 and again this year.
But though there is little reason to believe McMahon can do better the second time around, state party leaders have embraced her rather than Chris Shays, a longtime member of the House of Representatives from Fairfield County. Though he is eminently better qualified to sit in the Senate, many GOP stalwarts disdain him as the quintessential RINO whose liberal stands on social issues, gun control and campaign finance are anathema to conservatives. Faced with a choice between such a RINO (albeit one who was a loyal member of the Republican caucus in the House for decades and something of a fiscal conservative) whom polls show to be a far formidable contender in November and a disreputable and certain loser in McMahon, most Republicans appear to prefer the latter.
Yet oddly enough, Shays appears to be far more supportive of GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan than McMahon. As the Hartford Courant reported, when asked about Ryan’s stands on entitlement reform, the supposed Tea Partier tried to have it both ways. She claimed to like Ryan’s general ideas but disavowed his budget and said she would oppose any plan that touched Medicare. By contrast, the RINO Shays made no attempt to distance himself from Ryan.
It says a lot about how far the Connecticut GOP has sunk — it controlled the governorship from 1994 to 2010 — that the only choices it can come up with are McMahon or Shays. Tomorrow’s primary is proof that even in a year where a relative moderate like Mitt Romney from neighboring Massachusetts is at the top of the ballot, Republicans still have no chance in a state like Connecticut. If they want to remain a national party, this is a problem that shouldn’t be ignored.