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August 3, 2023

Trump is indicted, again. In CT, the reaction is relatively tame

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters face off outside the New York Criminal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan on April 4, 2023.

The indictment accusing Donald J. Trump of conspiring during his last days in the White House to overturn the lawful election of his successor was unprecedented but hardly unexpected. Connecticut didn’t shrug at the news Wednesday, but the reactions largely were muted.

Neither the Democratic or Republican state parties issued a statement, either to reporters or on social media. When approached by reporters, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, mildly said, “I just know that, A, people are innocent until proven guilty and, B, nobody’s above the law.”

Two previous indictments of Trump, coupled with disclosures by the congressional committee that explored his culpability in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, may have provided an inoculation against being shocked by anything related to America’s 45th president.

“We’ve had not only the vaccine, we’ve had the booster. So nothing surprises us,” said Rich Hanley, a Quinnipiac University journalism professor. “A Trump indictment or a Trump story of this magnitude in the past would have been earth-shattering. Now it’s just part of the everyday news cycle.”

Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, the leader of the Republican minority in the Connecticut House, said another factor may be that the Trump indictment came while a U.S. House Oversight Committee is investigating whether President Biden illegally assisted his troubled son, Hunter Biden.

“On the one hand, you have Trump being indicted and charged with things that we’ve never seen before, but you have a sitting president who’s a Democrat also potentially being charged and scrutinized for his activity,” Candelora said. “So I think the temperature of national politics is so high right now that both sides are largely muting themselves.”

Hunter Biden’s former business partner testified in a closed-door congressional hearing Monday that President Biden was not involved in their financial dealings, but Hunter would put his father on speakerphone to impress clients, the Washington Post reported, quoting committee members.

Candelora is one of the Republicans in Connecticut who quickly distanced themselves from Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen, but he is discomfited by the spectacle of a defeated U.S. president facing state charges in New York over hush money paid to a porn actress over an alleged affair, two federal indictments and the possibility of other state charges in Georgia.

“For me as a political official, but also just as a citizen, I become largely disinterested in all of this, because I don’t trust anyone is doing the right thing for the people,” Candelora said. “You know, it’s very cynical, but it’s part of how I feel. I’m like, well, it’ll just play out. I can’t even react to it any more.”

The federal indictment draws a distinction between what Trump could have asserted about a stolen election as a matter of free speech and “unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results.” 

Lamont suggested one potential defense Trump might offer for his claims that fraud justified his efforts to halt Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

“Maybe he believes it,” Lamont said. “But that makes him even scarier to me.”

John McKinney, the former state Senate Republican leader, noted Trump’s legal troubles have been a political asset among Republicans, as measured by numerous polls and, at least until recently, his fundraising.

“I don’t know if even a conviction will change a lot of his supporters,” McKinney said.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in June after Trump was indicted on 37 federal charges related to his handling of classified documents found his support among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters to be stable.

Trump was supported by 53%. His closest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was at 23%, and the rest polled at 4% or below. In a head-to-head matchup, Biden led only slightly, 48% to 44%.

“A federal indictment. A court date on a litany of charges. A blizzard of critical media coverage. The negative impact on the former president’s standing with voters? Not much at all,” said Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac polling analyst, at the release of the June poll.

Liz Kurantowicz, a Republican campaign consultant in Connecticut, said the political world is waiting to see what happens next.

“It is too early to say what impact any of this will have, because there’s still so much runway left in the presidential primary process,” she said.

The most immediate impact of the latest indictment may be on the party’s finances, nationally and at the state level. As Reuters reported in July in a story focusing on the presidential battleground states of Arizona and Michigan, big GOP donors are sitting on their checkbooks.

In Connecticut, the state Republican chair, Ben Proto, acknowledged an impact here.

“The upside is we’re seeing more small contributors — you know, the $25, $30, $50 contributors who are responding to our email requests, text message requests, our mail requests, things like that,” Proto said.

But there is a downside.

“When I go and talk to major donors, there is a concern among the major donors about Trump and the direction of the party, the direction of the country,” Proto said.

With support from both parties, the General Assembly recently raised the maximum donation allowed to state parties from $10,000 to $15,000. Proto is approaching donors who have given $10,000 to consider another $5,000.

CT Mirror staff writers Lisa Hagen and Ginny Monk contributed to this story.

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