Say what you will: as demonstrated last night, there can be no doubt that Donald Trump’s brand of Republicanism – Trumpublicanism? – appeals to a large majority of RI GOP members and a significant portion of RI “Independent” men and women. He’s not my cup of tea (my preference is of the older, Tea Party kinda variety) but a lot of my neighbors seem to love him and I’m not gonna try to psychoanalyze his appeal – plenty of that has been done already. Again, I get it, I just disagree.
The votes received by the outsiders – Trump and Sanders – will be examined, interpreted and spun over the next few days. But the bottom line is that none of it matters if those cathartic expressions of distaste for the establishment writ large aren’t translated to the finer print of smaller, local political races and result in actual victories. We Rhode Islanders are impacted by national politics like everybody else, but the last few decades have shown that it doesn’t matter in Rhode Island who or from what party the POTUS is – we are still over-taxed and over-regulated. And we still have a bad economy that sometimes-might-maybe-occasionally enjoys periods of middling performance when it’s not leading or lagging a national economic recession. So what to do next? Here’s my unsolicited advice: take that energy and put it to work where it really matters in local elections for town and city councils, school committees and the state legislature.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but what Rhode Islanders should try is a real, genuine shakeup. Most of us like our guy or gal, the one’s who gave the Little League or social club or charity a nice check for $1500 the other day (*Edit- Otherwise known as the Legislative Grant Program where RI taxpayers fund feel-good, publicity churning giveways to legislators’ pet projects). We like to think our legislator is OK, it’s the rest of them. But they are all part of the problem. It’s not just the rest of ‘em that are the bad apples, like the Speakah. The rest of ‘em, including the Speakah, are somebody elses “good guy” or “gal” after all. And all of those $1500 grants of good will translate to millions of dollars in insider giveaways that benefit the few as dictated by the Speakah and the rest of the Democratic leadership. All enabled by the “good guys” and “gals” that average Rhode Islanders vote in year after year. We can’t continue to let them buy us off that cheaply, not anymore. If we do, then, well, we’ve proven again that Rhode Island is insane (and we all know that definition). So for real change, vote out all of the good guys and gals, regardless of whether you like them or not.
It’s no surprise that I don’t think Rhode Island needs more Sanders-style Progressivism, so let’s talk about what the Trumpublicans need to do now that their dog has caught the car. The bottom line is this may be the last, best (and only?) chance for the new RI GOP, the Trumpublicans of RI, to make their move. Can they build off the anger and passion and really shake up the Rhode Island Democratic establishment? Unless they translate their Trump-inspired energy into actual victories for local candidates, the RI Trumpublican movement will be nothing more than what I and others suspect – a cult of personality that looks to the Big Man to fix our problems from Washington, D.C. (Yeah, I know, “But it will be better because our guy is in charge!” OK, Princess – keep hoping for Prince Charming) by essentially keeping the status quo…with a few tweaks and a lot of heated rhetoric (“and put-downs, don’t forget the put-downs!”). In the end, it will be no different than any other variety of Republicanism that has been tried in Rhode Island.
But maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. Maybe that new energy sweeps at least a filibuster’s worth of state legislators into the RI Legislature. Maybe it will metastasize into a genuine political philosophy and movement that will be attractive to average, working Rhode Islanders. Because if it doesn’t work this time around, then Tuesday will have been just another dead end “revolution”, temper-tantrum, lemming run – pick your metaphor. If history repeats – and Spring’s anger turns into a Fall of “meh” – then I suspect that the RI Trumpublicans will be fired for good this time.