There will always be what the French call “frisson” between political parties and their nominal heads. In Connecticut, the nominal head of the Republican Party is Governor Jodi Rell. Foreground politics is different than background politics. At the end of November and the beginning of December, the background moved on stage, and for a brief moment one saw disquieting fissures.
The Republican Party in Connecticut must be something other than its nominal head. Political graveyards are populated with the brutalized corpses of leading politicians who had mistaken themselves for their parties. Politicians come and go, parties remain. They are intended to be the permanent structures in a politics of developmental change, though parties also are subject to an evolution that should enhance a deliverable message.
And here is where the trouble begins. Parties are like flags or constitutions. Armies gather under flags; countries move forward into uncertain futures on the wings of constitutions, written or graven in the history of the country.
A political party that seeks to form itself around a person rather than ideas, even though the person may be the temporary custodian of the ideas, is doomed to the ashcan. Strong party men like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, considered the fathers respectively of the modern Republican and Democrat parties, knew this well. Lincoln was the custodian and grand articulator of his party’s core ideas, but he knew very well that those ideas, subject to modification, must continue into the future if the Republican Party was to survive as a going concern.
The Republican Party in Connecticut, it must be said, has not always been generously served by it nominal heads. Former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, the nominal head of his party as senator, was only nominally a Republican who occasionally referred to himself as the “turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.” He was regarded, touchingly by Republican Party opponents, as a maverick. Indeed his self serving autobiography is titled “Maverick.”
Governor John Rowland was less abrasive than Weicker. But he was not above whipping the troops into line to make awkward accommodations with leading liberal Democrats in the state legislature, to which some political watchers might respond, “Well, that is what governor’s do.”
Which is why someone other than a governor of the state of Connecticut should lead the party. A strong party chairman – there used to be such creatures prowling the political precincts – would set both the tone and the course of the party. And occasionally that chairman would bump up against party accommodationists, insisting that the course of the ship should remain the same even if the captain must tack to the right or left to avoid treacherous shoals and hidden coral undercroppings.
Among Republicans, often stung by state governors, there is a strong suspicion that Governor Rell, under the direction of chief aide Lisa Moody, has been fiddling unnecessarily with the sheet anchor of the party. Parties, like governments, have their unwritten constitutions – their constituent elements which, altered for the sake of making accommodations, change both the journey of the party into the future and its essential message.
The governor was off message awhile back when she had proposed a tax increase to discharge a budget debt. That measure was manfully resisted by her party. The contretemps ruffled some feathers at the time, but apparently did not affect the governor or Moody, though the recent collapse of Wall Street, followed by the imminent collapse of Main Street – the two, despite Democrat rhetoric are intimately related -- appears to have stiffened some spines in the governor’s office.
Rob Simmons, a US Rep. from 2001 to 2007 and a faithful on deck marine in the Republican Party, was backstabbed by someone who, some Republican thinks, wanted to derail his future as possible gubernatorial threat.
Now, who ever could that be?
Fences have been broken; they ought to be repaired, if only for tactical reasons. And Republicans should not give up the ship to personality cultists. The port awaits the party that does not succumb to distractions or discouragements but presses on -- full speed ahead.