Frank Caprio is beginning what will be his second act in Rhode Island politics. It’s actually a reasonably admirable move; after a stinging defeat in the race for governor, Caprio readjusted his sights and aimed lower. In a political world which seems to be completely about climbing the ladder of positions, Caprio’s decision to stay level is an intriguing one.
RIPR’s Ian Donnis suggests that Caprio could be buoyed by a forgiving Rhode Island that’s for second chances. I don’t think this is particularly unique to Rhode Island; we don’t have to look very far to find examples of second chances. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford recently found his way into the U.S. House of Representatives despite resigning his previous office in disgrace. Louisiana senator David Vitter frequented prostitutes and not only stayed in his seat, but won reelection. And Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon both lost races before winning the presidency. Second acts tend to be the nature of most democratic systems.
Caprio shouldn’t depend on forgiveness. “Shove it” is one of a few liabilities. His disaffiliation from the Democratic Party last November, combined with a quick tweet insulting President Obama, demonstrates he has a massive problem with the Democratic Party. Beyond that, he also met with the Republican National Committee during 2010. If he rejoins the Democratic Party to contest the position of treasurer then it’ll be clear he’s doing it solely for the electoral boon being a Democrat adds in Rhode Island. Frank Caprio was a terrible Democrat. Apologizing for “shove it” won’t change that.
Should he pursue office as a Democrat, it might be wise if he stayed away from WPRO’s John DePetro. It’s unlikely his support collapsed among WPRO listeners following “shove it.” Where it seems more likely to have collapsed is among Democratic voters who were already weak on him to begin with and were dismayed to see him turn the Rhode Island Democratic Party into a national laughingstock while providing fodder for America’s conservatives. Should Caprio reaffiliate with the Democratic Party, any potential Democratic opponent has to point out what a piss-poor job Caprio has done in serving Democratic interests or even just being a Democrat.
The other issue hampering Caprio’s likelihood of retaking the treasurer’s office is that he has a record as a treasurer. In the years since he left, Gina Raimondo raised the twin issues of the pension crisis and then pension reform. The political reality is that pension reform has been extremely popular. And part of the pro-reform camp’s argument has been that successive politicians kicked the can down the road instead of dealing with the problem before Raimondo dealt with it. Caprio has the grave misfortune to be the last person caught kicking that can. Any potential opponent will skewer Caprio with that point.
It’ll take more than a forgiving electorate to overcome such hurdles; it’ll take a serious effort by Caprio and his allies to make theses issue irrelevant. Luckily for them, they have a year before election season takes off. That’s a lot of time to prepare counters to all of the above.
Before this was published, but after I finished writing it, it appears that the Caprio camp (or at least a former campaign employee) is piloting a strategy to deal with the Raimondo issue. It looks like they’ll talk about the hedge fund issue.