Can the RI GOP Rebound - Experts Weigh In
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
After being unable to take out a vulnerable Democrat in Governor Gina Raimondo, an embattled Speaker in Nicholas Mattiello, losing two House seats in the Rhode Island General Assembly — and failing to take any statewide positions — can the Grand Old Party rebound in the Ocean State?
“The party needs to reassess its role and double down and focus on getting candidates elected to the General Assembly,” said incoming House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, who was first elected to District 36 in 2014. “Of course we want talented statewide office candidates -- but the way we can start to make the most difference is by getting candidates elected to the General Assembly. I often get most frustrated in Presidential election years, when there's no chance ever that Rhode Island electoral votes will go to a Republican -- yet activist and state party resources are wasted on presidential campaigns."
SLIDES: SEE WHAT EXPERTS SAY BELOW
And while the state GOP dealt with in-party fighting which saw gubernatorial candidate and outgoing House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan endorse Joe Trillo over primary victor and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, national political experts see the issue as being larger than just Rhode Island.
“No, it can’t rebound,” said Brookings Institutions Vice-President Darrell West, of the Rhode Island Republican Party. “It is going to be hard for Rhode Island Republicans to recover during the Trump era. Sentiment there is strongly anti-Trump and it is difficult for GOP candidates to separate themselves from the president. It is easy for Democrats to morph every Republican into a mini-Trump.”
And, in communities like East Greenwich, the wave of blue simply overwhelmed Republican candidates.
The GOP strategy of surrendering many of the statewide and Congressional races in exchange of building the party from the grassroots level turned into a political slaughter with key GOP incumbents losing their seats and two high profile Republican hopefuls losing high profile races — GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias losing again to Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello and Republican State Chairman Brandon Bell losing badly in his bid for a House seat to one-term legislator Alex Marszalkowski.
On Sunday, Republican State Representative Bobby Nardolillo — who had declared for the U.S. Senate race before bowing out when Bob Flanders garnered the party’s endorsement — posted on Facebook the following.
“I talked with a few of my Democrat friends today who are still baffled how Raimondo broker 50% and [Democratic Senator Sheldon] Whitehouse broke 60%. I guess you can polish a commode."
“Organization, message, money and a story to tell,” wrote former Director of Administration and GOP advisor Gary Sasse.
This story was first published 11/12/18 2:30 AM. Updated 11/12/18 at 9:35 AM
SLIDES: SEE WHAT EXPERTS SAY BELOW
Related Slideshow: Rebuilding the GOP—November 2018
John Loughlin, Former GOP State Representative and U.S. Congressional Candidate
"In preparation for my run for Congress I met with successful blue state Republicans to find out how they did it. Robert Ehrlich, former Maryland Congressman and Governor, told me not to rely on Republican party structures or organizations in blue states, like Rhode Island. He basically said that, by their nature, Republican state central committees in blue states are made up of contrarians and others who uncomfortable with success.
He said the way Republicans win in blue states is to build organizations around candidates that can win. If you think about it, that really was the model for successful Rhode Island Republicans in the past, including Machtley, Almond and Carcieri, none of whom were RIGOP picks when they initially ran. As a result, I avoided the state party during my congressional run and I think that’s the model for future Republican success in a blue state like Rhode Island."
Jeff Deckman, Former GOP Executive Director
"The RIGOP needs a complete overhaul. The Chairman needs to go and Alan Fung needs to release his hold on the state party. Neither has done anything to build a sustainable organization in the years between the gubernatorial election. Bell and Fung controlled that party but didn’t build the party. As a result the party suffered greatly, In fact, when the Chairman chose to run for his own election he left all the other candidates in the lurch to win without any party support. That was his one job and he abandoned it and the party, itself.
They need new blood; new energy and new thinking. I think Blake Filippi being elected as Minority Leader is an excellent start in that direction. If he were to take a leadership role in rebuilding the party he is dynamic enough, new enough and intelligent enough to get people to believe that things could change. But without a whole new team at the top no one will believe change is possible. Nor should they. Because the ones who have had control have shown the only thing they are capable of is ensuring the party stays broke, underfunded and impotent."
Spencer Sullivan, GOP Strategist -- Founder and CEO of Lean Campaign Strategies.
"First and foremost, the Rhode Island Republican Party has struggled for years beyond any current leadership. It comes down to credibility and branding. If you went to Amazon or CVS and went to buy a product you didn't know much about, you'd wonder where [your] money's going, if you're not sure it's going to be successful.
To get past that you have to talk branding. I'm talking what does the average voter feel the RI GOP does or doesn't do -- to get that simple baseline which is crucially missing and not to let biases dictate. There needs to be a more analytical focus group as to where the [RI GOP] stands and not in an emotional way. The need to commit resources to provide a roadmap for rebuilding."
Mark Zaccaria, Former GOP State Chairman and U.S. Congressional Candidate
"The simple answer to the question is that the RI GOP, or any other major party, has no influence whatsoever outside that they can enforce by funding those who agree with them, or withholding funding from those who do not. Since the RI GOP has fallen down in fundraising recently it should be no surprise that it cannot enforce any conformance to party principles that it might wish to transfer to any of its statewide legislative candidates."
Val Endress, Professor of Communications, Rhode Island College
"A strong two-party system is exactly what Rhode Island needs, but it will take years to build and it's unlikely that the RI GOP will get much support on the national level in the near future. The country has become increasingly polarized and, too, the Republican Party is split between those who support Donald Trump and those who have rejected his leadership but struggle to survive. Charlie Baker in MA has hit the right note with his moderate stances in a blue state, but this is a rare occurrence.
In Rhode Island there is little in the way of an infrastructure that includes a long-range fundraising plan, a recruitment plan, and a digital presence to attract new voters, a mentoring system by which new candidates on the local level are encouraged and supported. More likely than not, candidates appear out of thin air and disappear quickly from the political scene after they are soundly defeated. This is no way to build a party and indicative of one that is broken. Under such a system, even talented candidates who should have a shot at statewide office can get little traction. Until members of the party can stop their dramatic, well-publicized intra-party struggle and come together for important long-range planning, you will see this troubled party continue as a non-contender.
As it stands, candidate recruitment to the Republican Party is a difficult task. The long-term dominance of the Democratic Party has created a big tent in which conservatives live alongside moderates and progressives. Should the party members of the RI GOP engage in disciplined party-building, they would have the opportunity to peel off the more conservative elements. But until there is structural support, a candidate who decides to stay under the RI GOP can find their candidacy to be an uphill battle."
Jennifer Lawless, Professor of Political Science, University of Virginia and Former RI Democratic Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives
"Can the RI GOP rebound? The short answer is no. Rhode Island has been a solidly blue state for what seems like forever. But there have regularly been blips of GOP life – either in the form of the governor, or a senator, or a handful of well-respected state legislators. Those days are gone. In 2018, the Republican gubernatorial candidate fared very poorly, despite being a likable, popular mayor. And the Democrat cruised to reelection despite questions about effectiveness and trustworthiness. The GOP bench is now all but vacant. And although Rhode Islanders continue to eschew partisan labels, they now cast votes for Democrats at greater rates than ever before."
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