Can the Opposition Machine Work?
Bill Felkner, of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, which today announced Mike Stenhouse as its new Executive Director, recently offered a review of where the RI center-right stands as a coalition:
And while [Lincoln Chafee was running left and wooing the unions], the center-right was splintering to ineffectuality. Ken Block, the Moderate candidate, thought that his start-up party with a limited platform could somehow supplant the GOP with its national infrastructure responsible for two of the largest political landslides in our nation’s history. And he was willing to spend a considerable portion of his own wealth to do it. Imagine how that money could have been used to help the movement, rather than divide it.
And the largest group of center-right taxpayers in the state, the Tea Party movement, was completely caught off guard by the business coalition, RISC, when it endorsed Caprio. Why would a self-proclaimed “statewide” taxpayer group endorse a candidate without even consulting with the boots on the ground and the rest of the coalition?
To be honest, I’m not sure how much Ken and the Moderates count as center-right. I’ve certainly included them in descriptions of the movement in the past, but they’ve emerged more as liberal Democrats who, frustrated that they couldn’t use the Republican Party to do so, have formed a distinct party as a base from which to challenge the establishment Democrats with whom they would otherwise ally. Take away the labels, and Ken’s group is nearly as far left as Chafee, from what I can see.
But Bill does point to a real problem among the Rhode Island political opposition. Moderate Party aside, there are in some respects two center-right coalitions. OSPRI and the Tea Party form one core, and RISC forms the other, with other groups trying to navigate the turbulent waters between. The result has been unnecessary inefficiency and distracting conflict.
I’ve seen an imperfect parallel even at the town level, in Tiverton, where we’ve got Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC), which is a RISC affiliate, and a local Tea Party Patriots group. Of course, at the town level, we’ve been able to work together, because each group has had a notably different focus and character. TCC has been primarily intent on town-level political strategy, while the Patriots are motivated more by state-to-national concerns.
At the state level, it would take more coordination than has proven possible to divide up the effort in a similar way, and it’s a shame. That’s true, not the least, because it surely contributed to the elevation of Lincoln Chafee to the governor’s office.