The year was 2006 and something unprecedented was happening: people were actually paying attention to the state of Connecticut. Senator Joe Lieberman, a long-serving moderate Democrat and Al Gore’s former running mate, had just lost his primary to a left-wing activist named Ned Lamont. Lieberman then jumped in as an independent and suddenly Connecticut had a real Senate race on its hands: two center-leftists plus a plucky yet overlooked Republican named Alan Schlesinger. Lieberman won in a rout.

That the far-left Lamont is now governor of Connecticut should tell you everything you need to know about...

The year was 2006 and something unprecedented was happening: people were actually paying attention to the state of Connecticut. Senator Joe Lieberman, a long-serving moderate Democrat and Al Gore’s former running mate, had just lost his primary to a left-wing activist named Ned Lamont. Lieberman then jumped in as an independent and suddenly Connecticut had a real Senate race on its hands: two center-leftists plus a plucky yet overlooked Republican named Alan Schlesinger. Lieberman won in a rout.

That the far-left Lamont is now governor of Connecticut should tell you everything you need to know about that state’s political drift. Once, Connecticut was called the “Switzerland of New England,” a relatively inexpensive and bucolic little haven for overtaxed and beleaguered Bostonians and New Yorkers. Today, the Nutmeg State is known primarily for having gone nuts. Except for California, no state functions as more of a Petri dish for the failures of left-wing governance.

Twelve years of untrammeled Democratic rule have erased Connecticut’s tax advantage; its tax burden is now the second highest in the nation, behind only New York. The state exists in permanent fiscal crisis, with taxes rising only for revenues to predictably plunge, rinse, repeat. Astonishingly, Connecticut hasn’t even recovered the jobs it lost during the Great Recession. Moving vans whistle down 95 South and 84 West, as residents abscond to Florida, Texas, anywhere more affordable.

It turns out people will pay a lot for red barns and white church steeples and rolling green hills — but they won’t pay that much. And it’s in this context that we must consider what happened there in August. The state turned in its first major political upset since the Lieberman/Lamont race of 2006. In the GOP Senate primary, Themis Klarides, a moderate Republican, which is to say a Connecticut Republican, lost in a landslide to Leora Levy, a conservative apparatchik who’d been endorsed by Donald Trump. Levy will now take on Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic mainstay and nemesis of the former president.

That a Trump-boosted right-wing insurgent knocked off an establishment figure is hardly news these days. And New England Republicans do have more of an affinity for the former president than is sometimes apparent. During the 2016 GOP primaries, Massachusetts was the first state where Trump won a majority, while Connecticut saw him rack up 58 percent of the vote (Ted Cruz managed only 12 percent). And yet — and yet — this is still the People’s Republic of Connecticut. Trump in 2016 pulled in only 41 percent against Hillary Clinton; against Joe Biden, he didn’t even clear 40 percent.

Here’s how politics tends to work in Connecticut (and worked even during the state’s more functional days): voters send supermajority hordes of Democrats into the legislature. Then they wake up one morning and realize that said Democrats, if left to their own devices, will spend the state into the Atlantic Ocean. So a milquetoast, lantern-jawed, pro-choice Republican governor is unearthed to stem the tide. The voters then pat themselves on the back, declare mission accomplished and then vote out the Republican in the next cycle for good measure.

It’s a thankless task but them’s the breaks, and the same logic applies to the House and Senate. Connecticut is simply not a place that does right-wing populism. And while Leora Levy is an interesting and even inspirational figure — her family fled Cuba in 1960 and she was one of the first female commodity traders — she has inextricably lashed her fortunes to those of Trump. It’s not impossible that she could win in November, but all of recent Connecticut history suggests it’s not going to happen.

Which raises the question: was Klarides, the moderate Levy knocked off, really such a bad choice for conservatives? She supports legal abortion, yes, but also wants to restrict late-term abortion. She’s distanced herself from Trump, but what is that except an acknowledgment of reality in a midnight-blue state? As minority leader in the statehouse, she fought hard against the endless tax increases coming from the Democrats. Her crowning achievement came in 2017 when the legislature approved a belt-tightening Republican budget, luring a handful of Democrats across the aisle.

The so-called Buckley standard, named after William F. Buckley, is to support the most conservative candidate who can win. That sounds more than a little trite, but those of us who grew up gnashing our teeth in blue states know it well. Klarides is the kind of candidate who can win in Connecticut. And she’s hardly the most wobbly-kneed Republican the state has ever coughed up (see: Chris Shays, Rob Simmons, etc.).

Was it really worth it to knock her off in order to take a full-court shot on Levy? This is a question not just for Connecticut but across the Northeast. These states are in desperate need of reform, hemorrhaging taxpayer money to entrenched interests and local talent to the south and west. Yet whatever that reform ultimately looks like, it isn’t going to include relitigating the 2020 election or the Mar-a-Lago raid. The GOP should take note.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s October 2022 World edition.