August 12, 2011

Splintering the Splintered

Marc Comtois

The RI GOP has been criticized for years (including by me) for not getting its act together and for in-fighting that has undermined its already small base in this blue, blue state. Yes, there are legitimate ideological and political differences amongst the ranks and leadership of any political party. Chafee v. Laffey is perhaps the most prominent, and the Doherty v. Loughlin race in CD-1 appears to be a case of "state level" (whatever that means) old guard RI GOP (Doherty) against more active, local conservatives (Loughlin). These are natural tensions. What is unfortunate is when there are power struggles inside the party that only serve to diminish its overall political effectiveness. The repercussions of the Chafee/Laffey race come to mind.

Ground-up political groups can also suffer from internal disputes. And by suffer, I mean break-up. It happened recently at the Ocean State Policy Institute and now it appears to have happened at the Rhode Island Tea Party.

Such breakups and reconstitutions aren't unique to Rhode Island conservatives, to be sure, but the conservative movement in Rhode Island seems too small to have so many different groups--and leaders--running around. (That being said, for the most part, the various conservative groups do seem to cooperate fairly well. It's just when we get to the "who gets credit" portion of our program....). Perhaps worse, there is only so much money out there that will support conservative causes. I'm not sure that adding yet another group to the mix--and dividing already sparse resources--is a good idea.

For its part, the Tea Party originated as a grass-roots, decentralized organization and was instrumental in helping to stop the binding arbitration legislation (among many other things) in the recent legislative session. However, no matter how decentralized an organization tries to be, someone has to speak for the group and guide its direction. It sounds like there was a disagreement on both fronts within the RI Tea Party. So, in the wake of a little success, I suppose it's only natural that as the stakes get bigger, so do the egos. Everyone who has a stake in something believes they know what is the correct path to follow, after all. Human nature.

I have no inside info on any of this, but in both the RI Tea Party and OSPRI cases, the stated reason for the changes have to do with philosophical differences or the like. That may be true, but I suspect that's another way of saying that egos got in the way and people wanted to do things their way instead of hashing it out and working together. Hey, it happens. But it doesn't have to (just look at us at Anchor Rising!).

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Amen. This is where we need a strong RIGOP chair or ED who has a meeting or series of meetings with all these "families" and brings them all together. I would guess that our of their top 10 beliefs, they all agree on at least 8 of them. So why not bring them all in together and let them form sub-committees of the state GOP on their various areas? Why not have a "Legislative Review Committee" with Lisa Blais chairing. Have an "Immigration Policy Committee" with Terry Gorman chairing and so on? Get them all under the same umbrella, get them pulling in money to the same parent and go from there. It'll also make things easier on candidates to only have to work with one group instead of all these splinter groups.

Posted by: Patrick at August 12, 2011 10:31 AM

Like Marc, I'm certainly not an insider here. But this appears similar to other Tea Party internecine conflicts throughout the country.
My guess; some Tea Party folks want to stay focused on economic and budget issues (Colleen Conley), while others want it to become a player on social issues (Doreen Costa, Rick Perry). I wonder how welcome the libertarians who gave the Tea Party its initial boost are these days - after watching him last night, I'm not sure Ron Paul is welcome.
Patrick, Reagan used to say "If you're 80 percent with me, you're with me." Problem is, many Tea Partiers don't accept Reagan's logic.

Posted by: bella at August 12, 2011 11:19 AM

Without any real future in the "big pond," the fish look for their own little ponds to lord over. Rhode Island is a lost cause, I'm sure all these people realize that by now. The best they can hope for without leaving the state is to be head of their own reform organization.

Posted by: Dan at August 12, 2011 11:45 AM

As a non-Tea party member maybe I sould say nothing,but I'd just like to observe that conservatives tend to be much less mind-numbed robots with a "party line" to adhere than "progressives".

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 12, 2011 12:26 PM

Joe that sounds an awful lot like the mind numbed party line.

Posted by: mike swabole at August 12, 2011 3:57 PM

mike-did that take you a long time to think up?
You can let me know the next time you see "progressives" disagree with the thought of the day.
Conservatives fight with each other almost as much as with lefties-I've been observing this phenomenon since about 1963 when I realized that liberals were full of sh*t.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 12, 2011 5:15 PM

I think a large part of the problem is that there is no real desire for change in RI. Consequently there are not a lot of voters to "unify". A conservative politician cannot find a base.

Since conservative groups cannot get any traction, they divide their time between preaching to the choir and debating fine points amongst each other. I cannot put my finger on it precisely, but I sense a certain feeling of futility. This may not be unreasonable.

My recommendation is to only fight the battles you can win. Leaving the state is not "quitting", it is winning the battle to lead the life that you desire. It is not rats fleeing a sinking ship, it is getting into a life boat when an iceberg collision is inevitable.

I have been considering a move back to North Carolina. In speaking with the sheriff about it (the town only has 738 people, and 5 names), I was welcome to come back but was warned "not to bring your attitudes with you".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 13, 2011 8:17 AM

the tea "party" was not and is not a grass-roots movement. it has experienced its successes largely because of hefty funding and infrastructure from right-wing people and groups. that is not said to discount the grass-roots work that many people have participated in on behalf of the teat-partiers and their brethren, however it is an important and oft overlooked distinction.

Posted by: Mary Todd at August 13, 2011 1:11 PM

From what I've read so far, one group will be focused on the state house and the other on Washington. I don't see that as a splintering of core philosophies. Only time will tell.

Posted by: Max Diesel at August 13, 2011 3:38 PM

Mary Todd writes:

"the tea "party" was not and is not a grass-roots movement. it has experienced its successes largely because of hefty funding and infrastructure from right-wing people and groups."

I think that has been the case for all "grass roots" operations, for many years. The practice of paying people to participate did not begin with paying people to attend JFK rallies. That sort of thing is documented at least back into the 1920's. Except where the issue is public danger, it costs a lot of maney to communicate with enough people, and beat the drum. "News events" which get TV coverage are not free.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 13, 2011 5:41 PM

Doherty has desided to run for Mayor of Cumberland. A great move and a chance for him to build a base and some experience at the executive level.

Posted by: Todd at August 14, 2011 8:57 AM

The problem seems to be that everyone is creating their own little fiefdom. Why couldn't this new Tea Party group just be a sub-committee of the Tea Party? Now there will be two sets of Tea Party lobbyists running around the state. Which one do you follow? Everyone is trying to play 'nice'. Will see how long that lasts before personality differences occur based on agendas.

Posted by: Justanotherjoe57 at August 14, 2011 8:59 AM

It must be hard to keep people together in groups like this when the organization undergoes changes. Even harder still when the central organizing component of that group is selfishness.

Posted by: Phil at August 14, 2011 9:53 AM

Phil writes:
"It must be hard to keep people together in groups like this when the organization undergoes changes. Even harder still when the central organizing component of that group is selfishness."

Could we be given an understanding of your definition of "selfishness"? Perhaps you could distinguish this from "self interest".

I am reminded of a guy I know who regularly condemns the Tea Party as "selfish" and "unwilling to negotiate". Since his own values and lifestyle approximate Tea Party principles, I have asked why it is "selfish". He cannot answer. Same with "unwilling to negotiate". I have asked him how one honorably negotiates away core principles, that stymies him.

"Compromise is the failure of leadership". W. Churchill

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 14, 2011 10:01 AM

It's nice to see Phil throwing out random comments about who is selfish.
Does he even know any of the people in the Tea Party?And how they spend their money?
How many free Hope Island oysters is he giving away every day to the homeless?
As far as grassroots,I guess is a real grassroots movement,hmmm?
Soros funded.All that need be said.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 15, 2011 11:55 AM


I think I know more about shellfish than I know about selfishness. I'll leave that to others who seem to be speaking from experience.

Posted by: Phil at August 15, 2011 6:57 PM

If that's a swipe at me,you don't know me either,so it doesn't mean sh*t.
I do agree that you know more about shellfish,so where do you get your assumptions?
Believe it or not,I agree with your post on another thread-I find the use of a frivolous term like"haircut"revolting when applied to the unjustified taking away of pensions earned by Central Falls employees for doing what they agreed to for what they were told to expect in return.
Why don't those f**kin'pigs we call judges and doff our hats to take a "haircut"on their obscene pensions?
I worked with many Central Falls cops who worked hard to eradicate the Medellin Cartel network in their town in the 80's.They could've taken bribes to look the other way,but they did not-they went to the Feds and got he job done.
Some thanks for that(sarcasm intended).

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 15, 2011 8:18 PM


I did not have you in mind. The term haircut is used by those that make their living by stealing with a pen. The retired police and firefighters in Central Falls are unfortunately learning that in this corporate capitalist country workers get screwed.

Posted by: Phil at August 18, 2011 7:59 AM
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