The question in Rhode Island political circles (at least on the right-leaning side of those circles) is: What is Joe Trillo thinking? Ted Nesi and Steve Nielson report on the candidate’s announcement on WPRO’s Matt Allen Show that he will run for governor as an independent:
Trillo’s decision opens up the potential for Rhode Island to elect a governor with less than majority support for the third time in a row. Then-independent Lincoln Chafee was elected in 2010 with 36% of the vote in a four-way field, and Raimondo was elected in 2014 with 41% in a three-way field.
During the radio interview, Allen noted that Republicans are likely to criticize Trillo as making it easier for Raimondo to win re-election by splitting the vote against her. “You think I didn’t think of that, being in politics?” Trillo shot back. “My answer is very simple – give me a shot in this general election and listen to my message. My message is going to be different from typical politicians that ride defense in the middle.”
Republicans who offer such criticism are absolutely right. Rhode Island arguably got Governor Lincoln Chafee because Ken Block split the vote. We arguably got Governor Gina Raimondo because Bob Healey split the vote. And the pattern suggests that we’ll get another term of Raimondo because Joe Trillo splits the vote.
The main difference, in this case, is that Trillo has long been a Republican and was expected to run in the primary right up to this announcement. Reportedly, some of his early donors are livid, even stopping payment on checks.
Putting aside the possibility of some hidden motive, Trillo may be looking at the developing Republican primary and find he doesn’t have a lane. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is the obvious front-runner, having nearly won against Raimondo in 2014 and having the strongest public-sector executive experience. Meanwhile House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan made a strong early entry as the more-conservative option for the GOP. She also remains a sitting legislator, whereas Trillo currently holds no public office. Running as an independent, Trillo can skip the primary and draw attention to himself largely with his own money.
Whatever the motivation, Rhode Island is likely to suffer for it.