The southeast corner of the airport and post office roads in Warwick was empty last week while in Washington, Lady Gaga sang the national anthem during President Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington.
The narrow strip of sidewalk near TF Green Airport had hosted countless rallies of Donald Trump honking and waving the flag over the past 12 months, even after his November election defeat was clear.
But if the inauguration ultimately silenced Trump’s rallies in Rhode Island, the future of Trumpism among Republicans in Rhode Island is unlikely to play out quietly.
Unlike their Democratic counterparts four years ago – almost unanimous in concluding that Hillary Clinton should pass the torch – few Ocean State Republicans swear to see Trump as their standard bearer.
“I would never have struck it off,” said former GOP state lawmaker Nick Gorham. “The more the Democratic Party tries to destroy Trump in the Senate, the more Republicans will stick with him.”
Since Trump took office four years ago, the GOP has lost control of the US House, Senate, and White House despite favorable congressional cards and a booming pre-pandemic economy. (And in most other countries, COVID-19 has brought an increase in the rallying popularity of the flag to incumbent leaders.)
Such a series of defeats could turn a typical politician into an outcast.
But Republican elected leaders don’t want to lose Trump’s more populist style of working-class voters won in recent years and are loath to revert to more traditional candidates like the Bushes, John McCain, or Mitt Romney.
“Trump was such a polarizing figure that we sometimes forget he stood up for something and appealed to voters who were not used to voting Republican,” Representative Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, told the political scene. “My opinion is that the Democratic Party was taken over by left-wing activists and corporate activists who supported Republicans … Trump appealed to people who felt left out.
Newberry said his own views on issues such as trade and immigration evolved over the Trump years.
So the question becomes: Is Trump the only one who can keep Trump voters from the GOP? And if so, are they worth it to turn off the uncomfortable moderates with his erratic behavior and abrasive personality?
“If you look at the national results in November, including the votes for Congress, they rejected Trump, but the people approved Republican policies,” Newberry said. The next candidate “could be him, but he should change his personality… The Republican candidate in 2024 will adopt the kind of politics that Trump supports, but without the rhetoric he used.
Gorham takes a similar point of view and compares Trump to, who else, the late Buddy Cianci.
“He’s a character I think Shakespeare would have liked to write about, and Buddy Cianci was too; he was his own worst enemy, ”Gorham said of Trump. “I don’t know if he would have had the same audience if he was perfectly articulate and polite. I don’t think there is anyone like Trump who can replicate it.
Trump’s low overall popularity in New England and the history of energizing Democrats seem to give Republicans in Rhode Island a particular reason for wanting to see him out of the limelight.
But Providence College political science professor Joseph Cammarano said the gap between Rhode Island Republicans and the National Party was smaller than ever.
“Given the growing similarity within parties, we find in both political parties across geographic regions, Republicans and RI Democrats are now nationally rooted …
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- According to the source Republican elected leaders don’t want to lose working class voters, Trump’s more populist style has won in recent years.
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