Talking Politics

The return of Trump and the Republican landscape for 2024

By Ian Donnis
Posted 12/12/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: As the possibility of another term of Donald Trump in the White House looms over 2024, Rhode Island Republicans remain on the outside of state government, looking in. The last GOP …

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Talking Politics

The return of Trump and the Republican landscape for 2024


STORY OF THE WEEK: As the possibility of another term of Donald Trump in the White House looms over 2024, Rhode Island Republicans remain on the outside of state government, looking in. The last GOP candidate to win the governor’s office was Don Carcieri in 2006, the party hasn’t won any other four state general offices since 1994, and Republicans hold just 14 of 113 seats in the General Assembly. Things are so lopsided that even George Nee, a very ardent Democrat, said years ago that the legislature would be better with more partisan balance.

Be that as it may, the GOP in Rhode Island (and Massachusetts) has struggled for relevance in the Trump era. For recent tea leaves, consider how Democrats won special elections for traditionally GOP-held municipal seats in Cranston and Foster this year. RI Senate GOP Leader Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield) is one of the few bright spots for the party. After making a short-lived run in CD2 last year, de la Cruz said Republicans should relentlessly focus on gaining legislative seats, using shoe leather to target potentially fertile districts in such communities as Johnston and Woonsocket.

“And I would argue that we have had quality candidates, but when it comes to the legislature, are those candidates willing to give up their summer to knock on doors and wear out shoe leather?” de la Cruz asked during an interview on Political Roundtable. “Because if they’re not, then they’re not going to win.” As far as her own future, de la Cruz offered an unequivocal answer when asked if she is contemplating a statewide run in 2026: “No, I’m going to be a state senator. I’m going to run for state Senate. If I have an opponent, then obviously, I will take that opponent very seriously. As I tell all candidates, take your opponent seriously. And yeah, so I plan on being a state senator.”

Another bright spot for the state GOP, state Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (R-Cranston) is widely expected to run in 2024 for the mayoral seat formerly held by her husband, Allan Fung.

TALKING TRUMP: Asked whether the 45th president has hurt efforts to elect Republicans in Rhode Island, Leader de la Cruz told me, “Yeah, I would say so. I mean, 2018 was a really tough year for Republicans. I won that year. I actually outperformed Trump in my district. but I think it hurt Republicans in ’18 and in ’20 and ’22.” De la Cruz declined to identify a preferred GOP presidential candidate, saying that she will vote for the party’s nominee. Asked if Trump – who recently called his opponents “vermin” and asserted that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the U.S. – could do anything to lose her vote, de la Cruz declined to answer directly, calling that a question for American voters in a time of “nasty” and “hyperbolic” political rhetoric. 

SHOWDOWN: Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini on Friday referred a complaint against Attorney General Peter Neronha to a state judicial panel. Neronha, who was not in court due to COVID symptoms, maintained the case against him is without merit.

PRIMARY CARE: Up to 200,000 Rhode Islanders could lack primary care by 2030 without steps to address the situation. That’s according to a story by my colleague Lynn Arditi. As Dr. Jeffrey Borkan, assistant dean for primary care at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, tells Lynn, the situation is rooted in economics: “Right now, there’s great disparities between what you can earn if you go into primary care versus going into specialty. And there’s also great disparities if you decide to practice in Rhode Island versus our richer and larger cousins in Massachusetts and Connecticut. So we have to reform payments, we have to reform incentives. We also have to go and really work on recruitment. And that’s recruitment of medical students, residents, fellows, nurse practitioners, physician assistants to get them to go into primary care. And there’s several ways we can do that. One is: Why don’t we reduce tuition and student debt for those who are going to practice primary care and stay in Rhode Island?”

BROADER DISCONTENT: The changes affecting healthcare and healthcare consumers extend well beyond Rhode Island. “What’s My Doctor Doing on a Picket Line?” was the headline of a story in The New York Times last Sunday. As Noam Scheiber reported, many doctors and pharmacists feel as put upon as clock-punching workers since a “longer-term consolidation of healthcare companies has left workers feeling powerless in big bureaucracies.” The story cites Walgreens and Woonsocket-based CVS as companies where some pharmacists are displeased by shrinking influence. CVS told the Times that performance metrics were needed for safety and efficiency and that the tracking of metrics has declined over time.

ARMY-NAVY: As a former Ranger, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed certainly has an abiding loyalty to the Army, but his role as Senate Armed Services chairman requires a more ecumenical approach to all branches of military service. Be that as it may, with the Army-Navy game in Foxboro last weekend, we hear tell of a friendly bet, for a meal of Rhode Island wieners, between Reed and former Congressman Ron Machtley, a Navy veteran. The bet used to be an annual thing between the two men, but was called off during Machtley’s tenure as president of Bryant University.

BEST WISHES: To Judge Caprio as he fights a cancer diagnosis.

GAME OF CHANCE: According to LendingTree, Rhode Island has the fifth-highest per capita spend on lottery tickets – $456.22, a 6.1% increase since last year. A news release contained this observation: “If you play the lottery too often and spend too much money on it, the impact on your finances can be significant.” You don’t say! Lotteries have long been seen by critics as a tax on the poor, and an analysis I did 30 years ago while reporting for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette showed a much higher per capita spend in blue-collar cities than affluent suburbs. “There’s a close correlation between low-income levels and high participation in the lottery,” Massachusetts Senate President Thomas Birmingham told me at the time. LendingTree reports that Massachusetts residents still spend at the highest rate on the lottery.

TAKES OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from various Rhode Islanders

MARCELA BETANCUR, executive director of the Latino Policy Institute: “The culmination of a year-long collaboration between the Latino Policy Institute (LPI) and the Latino Mental Health Network of RI (LMHN) resulted in the Latino Mental Health Pipeline Report. This report assesses the existing gaps and challenges in the mental and behavioral health workforce, amplifying the voices and experiences of Latino and multilingual clinicians. Throughout this collaborative initiative, recurring themes emerged, spotlighting critical obstacles such as education, financial accessibility, cultural nuances, and the pressing need for robust professional development support.

“Despite Rhode Island’s proactive measures in addressing mental health system issues, our report identifies tangible and equitable investments required to effectively bridge these gaps and barriers. The findings underscore the urgency for targeted interventions and strategic investments to address these challenges. Key recommendations include bolstering support systems, embedding cultural competency within education and training frameworks, and enhancing financial accessibility.

“These measures are vital to cultivating a more inclusive and resilient mental and behavioral health workforce. This report will introduce a new dimension to RI’s discourse on mental health access, workforce development, and strategic investments. The prevailing mental health crisis in our communities necessitates a prepared workforce of professionals. We aim to fortify our collective response to this pressing issue by implementing the suggested measures.”

DANTE BELLINI, chief hooligan of Hooligan Film Productions: “How great was it to live at the same time as Ernie D and see him play at Providence College? The memories came flooding back this week as I read Ernie DiGregorio’s newly available memoir, ‘Star with a Broken Heart.’ The stories from that book are so familiar and quintessentially Ernie – with a heavy sprinkling of Marvin Barnes and Coach Dave Gavitt and their very special bond.

“But I want to sit a moment on this thought – what DiGregorio did for us that can’t quite be quantified. He turns the clock back. We are transported to the early days of the Civic Center and Alumni Hall. For the 40 minutes when Ernie D was on the court, there was an innocent simplicity to life and a massive forcefield nothing could penetrate. The outside world did not exist. Only #15. That little Italian kid who lived five minutes up the road from Providence College.

“We were amazed how Ernie always found the open man, often Marvin. Or could hit the 30-footer from the corner with two seconds on the clock. He gave us the no-look pass and yeah, the most famous move of them all – the full-court behind the back to Kevin Stacom, of course.

“In a game played at lightning speed, it was more dreamlike than anything when Ernie had the ball. When he did something implausible, impossible, you weren’t sure you saw it. And he did that stuff thousands of times. And without the benefit of instant replay, the way you saw it in your mind grew only larger and more mythical. The memories are embedded forever.

“What did Ernie D do for us? With his special brand of basketball magic, he made us want everything to stop, and for those 40 minutes, in a time divided by war and race and hate, we were united.”

State Rep. DAVID MORALES (D-Providence): “As nice as it is to hear that Rhode Island is one of the most ‘generous’ states where neighbors support neighbors through GoFundMe, this further reiterates the need and economic hardships that people in our state are experiencing. Usually, families and community members feel forced to start a GoFundMe campaign to support their healthcare expenses, rent payments to avoid eviction, legal costs, recovery after a home disaster, and/or funeral services.

“Unfortunately, this can be tied back to how we do not have a safety net prepared to support our neighbors in these vulnerable situations. It’s truly heartbreaking to read the stories of families struggling to relocate after a house fire, seniors struggling to afford their prescriptions, and widows struggling to afford burial services for their loved one who just passed away unexpectedly. And while our fellow neighbors have proved to be generous time and time again, it’s clear that we need an emergency safety net fund to support our neighbors and families in dire need. At the same time, we need to further invest in statewide policies and programs, such as rent relief, capping prescription drug costs, medical debt relief, and right to counsel services for tenants.”

MEDIA: Back in 1989, the shooting death of Carol Stuart – falsely attributed by her husband, Charles, to a black assailant – was the talk of Boston. The slaying sparked a manhunt, racial profiling and the revelation that Charles Stuart had killed his wife. Now, The Boston Globe has revisited through a rich multi-media treatment what it calls Nightmare on Mission Hill: The Untold Story of the Charles and Carol Stuart shooting.

KICKER: Juan Soto joins the Yankees. Welp.

Ian Donnis can be reached at 

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