Cleveland — Richard Nixon opened a golden age of Republican presidential politics in Connecticut by promising a “silent majority” unnerved by assassinations, urban riots and war protests that “the long dark night for America is about to end.” Can Donald J. Trump do the same in an era of Twitter, 24/7 cable news, terrorism and police shootings?
“Make America Safe Again” is the theme tonight as Republicans gather in a cozy downtown arena amid some of the tightest security ever seen at at a national political convention to open a lightly scripted reality TV show culminating Thursday with the candidate’s daughter, Ivanka, introducing Trump as he accepts the GOP nomination for president.
Nixon, who won in 1968 on a law-and-order platform, started a GOP presidential winning streak in Connecticut with his 1972 re-election. But the state has gone Democratic every four years since Bill Clinton won in 1992, bragging of his Yale Law School classmate and wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, that a vote for him meant “you get two for the price of one.”
The Connecticut GOP would love to bookend the beginning of the Democratic streak with the defeat of Hillary Clinton, who had a seven-percentage point lead over Trump in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll of Connecticut voters. Republicans say a private poll conducted earlier this month, when Clinton’s email scandal was in the news, showed the state as a toss-up.
“The great thing about the Republican Party, all you have to do is mention Clinton and it’s a dog whistle, no matter what reservations you have about Trump,” said Chris Healy, one of three former Connecticut Republican chairmen here as one of the state’s 28 delegates and 25 alternates, all committed to Trump — the landslide winner of the Connecticut primary.
Healy, like most of the GOP establishment in Connecticut, was a slow adopter. He started with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, then moved to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida after Walker faded. Healy’s successor, Jerry Labriola, who is not here as one of the state’s 28 delegates and 25 alternates, backed Rubio.
Catherine Marx of Hebron, an alternate who is handling logistics for the delegation, started the season trying to pick among the governors and former governors in the original GOP field of 17. “That was my first screen,” she said.
Sen. Michael McLachlan of Danbury, one of the seven state legislators in the delegation, also was interested in Walker, settling on Trump shortly before the primary for a simple reason: “He’s a winner.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of three candidates still active in late April, finished second in the Connecticut primary. Despite being the governor of the host state, Kasich has not endorsed Trump and is not scheduled to address the convention.
No member of the Connecticut General Assembly publicly endorsed Trump until Rep. Anthony J. D’Amelio did a week before the primary. State Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, the leader of the House GOP, initially preferred Kasich, but she is here as a Trump delegate. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, declined to be a delegate and is not attending.
State Rep. John H. Frey of Redding is a superdelegate by virtue of his membership on the Republican National Committee. In all, the delegation has seven state legislators: Klarides, D’Amelio and McLachlan of are delegates; Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook, Rep. Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck and Rep. Cara Pavalock of Bristol are alternates. Pavalock was added after former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey of Greenwich gave up her spot at the suggestion of the New York Post, where she writes a column. She is attending as a guest.
The newcomers to politics are more passionate about Trump. Charles Bruckerhoff of Chaplin, a Vietnam veteran with a hearing disability, said he retired six months early to volunteer for Trump in New Hampshire.
He said he’d like to see a businessman take a crack at government, particularly a Veterans Administration that is a source frustration to him and his fellow vets.
Art Koproski, 82, of Stamford, is here as a guest, a reward for his early support of Trump, whom he called the first presidential candidate who ever inspired him to volunteer.
“Trump says it like it is. He’s going to make a great president,” said Koproski, who called Trump a strong leader for unsettled times. “We have to have law and order.”
Koproski said he agrees with Trump on the need to secure the U.S. borders, but he would like to see a path to citizenship for immigrants already here, such as the Latino day laborers he sees lining up for work in Stamford.
“They’re not on the dole. They’re here to work,” he said.
The old conventional wisdom was that Trump, a self-promoting business tycoon who has mixed myth and fact to convince the GOP primary electorate he can “make America great again,” was too mercurial to be take seriously, especially as he proposed a religious test for immigration and suggested a federal judge’s Mexican heritage rendered him unfit to preside over a lawsuit involving Trump University.
The new conventional wisdom: Trump is what the party needs.
“I have no problem at all going all in on this,” Healy said. “This guy is not afraid of the Clintons and he is not afraid of Obama and he is willing to go after them with everything he has. For people who have made this a big part of their lives, that is very attractive.”
J.R. Romano, who took over as Connecticut Republican chairman last year, said no one cares how long it took the delegates to land with Trump, just that they did.
“It’s like the old song, I don’t care how you get here — just get here,” said Romano, who believes elected officials and the rest of the establishment were slow to see Trump’s appeal. “You started to read the tea leaves and say, ‘Something is going on here.’ They go into the diners and coffee shops, and they can hear the conversation. I think that’s what happened.”
The elected officials also saw Trump win 58 percent of the vote in a three-way Connecticut primary, carrying 165 of the state’s 169 cities and towns. That is helping them look past Trump’s tendency to say and do things that galvanize the opposition.
The Republican National Convention careened off script four years ago, beginning with Chris Christie’s opening night speech about, well, Chris Christie and ending with Clint Eastwood and an empty chair upstaging Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman, keeps the chair in his office, Romano said.
One thing is reasonably certain: Trump, who thrives on chaos and provocation, is unlikely to be upstaged.
“I think it will be better scripted than people think it will be,” said Benjamin Proto of Stratford, who helped coordinate the Trump campaign in Connecticut and was one of the Trump delegates on the Rules Committee who defeated a late effort to free committed delegates to vote for another candidate. “Paul Manafort has done this enough times.”
Manafort, a New Britain native, is the lobbyist and long-time GOP operative who is chairman of the Trump campaign.
But Proto and others say that every modern convention is a TV show, and their candidate is a reality TV star, where a dash of chaos and drama keeps an audience involved. As a member of the Rules Committee, Proto’s task Monday afternoon is to ensure there is not too much drama.
Trump delegates on the committee are trying to block Trump opponents from delivering a minority report to the full convention calling for a rules change that would free delegates to vote their consciences, setting up the remote possibility of a floor fight.
Time and again, Trump has thrown news cycles in unexpected directions with a Tweet or an off-the-cuff remark, such as his praise at a recent rally of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists.
“He killed terrorists. He did that so good,” Trump said.
His remark stunned some Republicans and distracted attention from a bad news day for Hillary Clinton: FBI director James Comey had announced there was no basis to prosecute her criminally for her handling of emails while secretary of state, but he condemned her as reckless.
As Trump has repeatedly demonstrated, social media now is a major factor in the campaign, an outlet that can turn seemingly minor moments initially ignored by the press into major news.
“The convention will be unlike any other that has existed since the advent of TV. The networks have no idea what’s going to happen there,” said Rich Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University. “In the chaotic world of the 21st Century, this may actually work.”
“Trump comes out of a reality TV environment,” Proto said. “You look at the reality TV shows that are successful, they tend to be a little chaotic.”
“The good thing is people are definitely going to be entertained,” Healy said.
A major question is how much of the drama will be generated outside the security perimeter surrounding the Quicken Loans Arena.
“There are a lot of different groups that are angry, and they are all angry at the same time,” Healy said. “Probably not since 1968 have we had all these volcanic undercurrents.”
Correction: As originally posted, this story referred to the GOP presidential winning streak beginning in Connecticut with Nixon’s election, not his re-election.
|Anthony D’Amelio||Waterbury||Jackie Bertolone||Norwalk|
|Jeffrey Santopietro||Waterbury||Lori McArdle||Fairfield|
|Justin Clark||West Hartford||Wendell Davis||Hebron|
|Mariane Clark||Avon||Andy Wainwright||Stamford|
|Charles Glazer||Greenwich||Lance Bakrow||Greenwich|
|Derek Phelps||Killingworth||Rae Ann Curtis||Hamden|
|Richard Foley||Danbury||Cara Pavalock||Bristol|
|Kevin Moynihan||New Canaan||Chris Tymniak||Fairfield|
|Jeffrey Ferraro||Stamford||Rosa Rebimbas||Naugatuck|
|Michael Mason||Greenwich||Steve Vincio||Avon|
|District delegates — 1|
|Francine Carrier||Bristol||Jake Carrier||Bristol|
|Steve Bonafonte||Hartford||Chris Healy||Wethersfield|
|Herb Shepardson||West Hartford||Elinor Carbone||Torrington|
|District delegates — 2|
|Charles Bruckerhoff||Chaplin||Catherine Marx||Hebron|
|Susan Hatfield||Pomfret||Art Linares||Westbrook|
|Mary Anne Turner||Enfield||Jay Berardino||Westbrook|
|District delegates — 3|
|Benjamin Proto||Stratford||Louis DeCilio||Stratford|
|Themis Klarides||Derby||Jerry Farrell||Wallingford|
|David Casetti||Ansonia||Pat Fers||Ansonia|
|District delegates — 4|
|James Campbell||Greenwich||Richard Moccia||Ridgefield|
|Annalisa Stravato||Wilton||Allen Levy||Westport|
|Linda McMahon||Greenwich||Bob Ferguson||Weston|
|District delegates — 5|
|Gary Giulietti||Farmington||Karen Kolo||Waterbury|
|Sean Cleary||Wolcott||Lois Chludzinski||New Milford|
|Michael McLachlan||Danbury||David Cappiello||Newtown|