I have been thinking about the RI GOP situation for a while. I’m one of those people who agree that it would probably be better if the Republicans were a stronger party, that they could actually threaten the Democratic agenda in the state, etc., etc. A problem, I think, is that there are plenty of people who feel this way, but simply would never vote for a Republican. And they’re not wrong to do that (despite what Republicans might say). A great number of Rhode Island voters legitimately dislike Republican policies. Believing in multiparty democracy won’t change that.
Combined with this are perpetual complaints that Rhode Island voters are too unthinkingly partisan, pulling the master lever (metaphorically) the moment they see “Democratic Party”. We also have John Loughlin pointing out that Democrats like Arthur Corvese would be Republicans in any other state; essentially saying they can’t overcome Democratic inertia in the state. Likewise, there are plenty of Democratic voters who point out that Democratic success in RI has led to more than a few Democrats-In-Name-Only. I’m sure the accused Democrats would beg to differ.
Anyhow, if the RI GOP legitimately believes this is the case, I have a proposal for the Republicans: disband and become Democrats.
By adhering to this philosophy of entryism, Republicans would achieve all of their current aims. They would gain more power by being able to ally with conservative Democrats. They would gain the ability to check Democratic policy. They would functionally remove the master lever as a political evil. Essentially, they’d make the Democratic Party a nonpartisan political party. Yes, the primary would become the election, but it pretty much has been anyway, with the battle between the left and right wings of the Democratic Party.
Who knows, they might actually get one of their own made Speaker or Senate President.
Here’s the issue at heart: do Republicans care more about their party or more about their ideals? If they care more about their party, they’ll remain Republicans, essentially declaring tribal identity superior to principles. If they care more about their principles, they’ll do what it takes to win. They’ve tried the separate party thing, and it failed.
Liberals learned the same lesson in 2000. Since that point, liberals and progressives have eschewed third party politics in favor of primary battles for control of the Democratic Party. RI Republicans could use the same tactic.
Another way to look at this is as the “Andrew Jackson” strategy. RI Republicans could be described as ascribing to a “Rhody Reagan” strategy, in which a true conservative arrives to lead them to glory. But a Jackson strategy, forcing a split within the single dominant party based on ideology might be more successful; much as Andrew Jackson did with the Democratic-Republican Party, leading to the formation of the Democratic and Whig Parties.
At the end of the day, it’s about where you’d rather be in the political world: inside the tent pissing out, or outside the tent getting pissed on.