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Dan Lawlor: RI GOP Needs Reboot

Monday, January 28, 2013


If the choice is between a corrupt Democrat and an intolerant Republican, Rhode Islanders vote Democrat.

The Republican Party will not be successful if it is a party of angry, bitter men - in fact, when it has been that party, it loses, again and again. The Green Party and Libertarians will not be successful if they are only a group of core believers. People need a vision - not just of what they're against, but what they're for, where aspire to, and why.

They need a mission.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (a Brown alum), recently argued that the national Republican Party needs to recalibrate, "By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington – instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport, and Cheyenne...we will not win elections by simply pointing out the failures of the other side. We must boldly paint the picture of what America can be, of just how incredibly bright America’s future can be."

In the "real" Rhode Island of Warwick and Cranston, there are actual, elected Republicans: Scott Avedisian and Allan Fung. Both are "NPR Republicans," pro-growth and socially liberal. Going further back, who was re-elected time and again in Rhode Island? John Chafee. Who only lost re-election because of the abysmal policies of the national Republican Party? Lincoln Chafee.

Moderate Republicanism in Rhode Island has produced US Senators John and Lincoln Chafee, US representative Ron Machtley, Mayor Vincent A Cianci Jr. (the first time around), Attorney General Arlene Violet, Secretary of State Susan Farmer, State Treasurer Nancy Mayer, Governor Lincoln Almond, US Representative Claudine Schneider, and the late State Representative Mary Ross.

Who exactly can far right conservatives point to as a repeated electoral success in Rhode Island? Steve Laffey (who lost in the US Senate Republican primary to Lincoln Chafee)? Don Carcieri (who, save for his differences on social issues, basically became allies with the leadership of the General Assembly in terms of economics and 38 Studios)? I concede Doreen Costa (who is a woman and active in her community!)

More than anything, the far right policies and rage in the GOP, not to mention what Jindal has called the "offensive and bizarre comments" of numerous national candidates, have hurt the chances of the local Republican Party. The Republicans don't need to echo the mill owners of generations past, but rather the good government types who founded libraries, built the public school system, and spoke for women's rights. Olympia Snowe-John Chafee Republicans are much more electable (and sensible!) than Sarah Palin-Todd Akin types.

Former Reform Party leader and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura refers to the two parties as Rebloodicans and Democrips - two gangs fighting for resources and power. Locally, it seems, people think one gang is a bit corrupt, but still delivers goods to just enough people to be successful.

A Republican Party that is for accountable management of the state has a much better shot of engaging large numbers of voters than a party that seems to give the message of, "You're all moochers! Stay away from my money and my neighborhood!"

Angry vitriol is not helping the local GOP grow. More importantly, a small, disconnected GOP hurts the state's political culture, lets the Democrats be lazy (if not egregious at times) in their vetting process for candidates, and weakens public debate. Moderate, third way Republicanism, embracing pro-growth policies and environmentalism, along with women and minority leadership, is the only version of the GOP which has a demonstrated, repeated record of success in this state since WWII.

Let's hope as the State GOP starts preparing for a new chairperson, the group loses the rage, and starts believing in Rhode Island again.


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