Linda McMahon has bought Connecticut’s Republican Party for two years now, but Tuesday the party bought her as well. In the primary for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination in 2010 McMahon got less than 50 percent of the vote. Tuesday she got three-quarters of it, thumping former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays.
As Shays remarked, without McMahon’s almost infinite money her candidacy would be a joke. Two years ago that money did make McMahon’s candidacy a bit of a joke because of its origin, a wrestling exhibition business that sold sex and degradation even to children. But that’s old hat now and the money remains, and again it has built a fantastic campaign edifice — pervasive television and radio commercials and mailings, phalanxes of aides to guard the candidate against serious questions, and even, on Primary Night, a wall-high and yards-long floral arrangement spelling the candidate’s first name, all of it surrounding mere vanity, celebrating the phenomenon of the zillionaire who feels entitled to start at the top in politics.
That entitlement is the essence of McMahon’s candidacy, her very platform. On Tuesday she moved from denouncing Shays as a “career politician” to denouncing the Democratic Senate nominee, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, as one. But if every “career politician” has to be ousted, that would include as well all the Republicans in Congress, whose positions McMahon apes (as best as she can perceive them) and whose majority she proposes to join. For a “career politician” is someone who does not start at the top but whose long performance in office earns consideration for advancement.
At least that’s how it used to be. And while in the last few years Connecticut has become a one-party state, Republicans having lost the governorship and three of the state’s five seats in the U.S. House of Representatives so that they now hold no major office here, there are still a few Republican mayors and state legislators who themselves are mocked by McMahon. Missing the humiliating irony, some were even on the stage with her Tuesday night as she railed again about “career politicians” — like them.
Work hard for the public in lesser offices, do the thankless grunt work there, study public policy, represent your party’s principles despite Connecticut’s adverse political circumstances — and then get out of the way for whoever has enough money and attitude and to whom public service is really nothing.
Of course it’s all the stupidest demagoguery and there are not yet many signs that it works well in Connecticut, which has been electing “career politicians” almost from its foundation. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson was referring specifically to Connecticut’s “career politicians” when he wrote the lament that has come down through history as “few die and none resign.”
But this demagoguery almost worked in Connecticut’s other big Republican primary, in the 5th Congressional District, where the convention-endorsed candidate, the conscientious veteran state Sen. Andrew Roraback, prevailed only because the vote was divided by two other rich neophytes complaining about “career politicians.”
Enough money in politics seems to eradicate any belief in thoughtfulness and relevance, so the Senate campaign now is likely to get uglier than any Connecticut has had in modern times, McMahon having the money and inclination to make it so and Murphy having the material — McMahon herself.
Pledging Tuesday night to help restore the country’s greatness, McMahon noted that “the only footprints on the moon are American footprints.” She neglected to acknowledge that those footprints got there because of the resolve and persistence of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and a few other “career politicians” in Congress who sustained NASA and the space program. NASA’s latest amazing feat has been to land an exploration robot on Mars. If they can get that planet up and running soon there may be somewhere to go.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.