Summing up the Rhode Island GOP Debate Over Laffey/Chafee ’06

Andrew’s last post about the negative ads against Mayor Laffey has been commented upon by an assortment of Republicans. Some support the Mayor, others bemoan the willingness of the National Republican Party to interfere at the primary level–and on the side of the more manifestly liberal of the two candidates at that–while others think the rank and file should accept the dictates from the party bosses and do nothing that might damage party unity.
I think re-posting some snippets of the commentary generated by Andrew’s post will provide an indication of the tension between those who tend to support the more-conservative Mayor Laffey and those who, even if reluctantly, are siding with “establishment” Republicans and, by default, Senator Chafee.
Anchor Rising contributor Don Hawthorne made the point that

These Senate people have only one principle: sustaining their power base, even if that means being devoid of any policy principles or vision for America. . .
Now, imagine if the Republican Senate leadership spent their money going after liberal Democrats who thwarted – among other things – the timely appointment of judges in the Senate.
And they wonder why we have no respect for their “foreign money” here in Rhode Island?

Will Ricci, of GOPUSA, also chimed in with his disgust:

I’ve been a member of the RNC since the week of my 18th birthday. While the RNC and the NRSC are technically different organizations, I know that they are close enough at the hip, that I can consider them related. They both get marching orders from the White House. I have not yet renewed my RNC membership for this year, because of shenanigans like this. As for all the other solicitations from the RNC and related entities, and I assure you, I receive many, I’ve been promptly shredding them, because I’m just fed up with all of it. However, I’m going to take Andrew and Don’s idea under advisement going forward, since considering the volume of mail that I’m still getting, they may not have gotten the hint from me yet. I’m not giving money to the national Republicans so that they can work against good members of this party who aren’t part of their little elitist club. I give money to them to fight Democrats, not Republicans! I’m sorry to have to do it, but sometimes principle needs to come before politics.

These “confessions” made by Will prompted “citizenjane” to comment:

If you all are so disgusted with this, why don’t you start a letter-writing campaign to the NRSC and threaten to disaffiliate from the party and encourage others to do the same if they do not stop these ads.

To which Will responded

While I understand your sentiments, disaffiliating from the GOP is a non-starter. We’re not going to be driven from the party by people like that. I’m registered as a Republican, because I am a conservative, and conservatives are more likely to win office being Republicans. Lincoln was a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican, and Ronald Reagan was a Republican (after he was a Democrat for a while). . . That being said, I think the biggest threat would be to their wallets. Witholding money to the national party and letting them know why you’re witholding it seems to be a good starting point.

But “citizenjane” was seconded by “Anthony,” who also seemed to think it incumbent upon Republicans to stop debate and rally behind the National Party’s chosen candidate:

If you don’t believe in what the RNC and NRSC are doing, maybe you should leave the Republican Party and form a Conservative Party as was done in New York.
Attacking the GOP simply because it is trying its hardest to retain a Senate majority is counterproductive. I understand people may disagree with the decision, but the GOP has made a decision. The time for trying to change that organizational decision in this race has long since past.

The pseudonymous “Robert” echoed Anthony’s views

The NRSC is following a formula they feel is successful, and probably has been in the past around the country. And that is come out attacking, before a challenger can get started.
They have millions of dollars, that they are going to put behind this race, as proven already. And Chafee is at the top of their list of seats to retain. Face it, Republicans in RI have a Senate seat we don’t deserve. Its the bluest state in the country, and the NRSC considers this seat priceless. They will do whatever to keep it and if murder was legal, the NRSC would do its worst.

And “Rex Manning” took the macro view and rather pessimistically observed that

Electing a conservative from Rhode Island (which by the way Laffey has admitted that he is not) is totally impossible. While Chafee may not even be close to a true conservative, he votes with the President almost 80% of the time while his counterpart Senator Reed only votes with the President 65% of the time. It’s the lesser of two evils and we need to keep the Senate.

That is essentially the debate that is going on in the Rhode Island GOP. It includes ideological conservatives, Laffeyites, party loyalists, and political pragmatists, but mostly it’s a debate between ideological conservative who lean towards the more-conservative Mayor Laffey and those who think only Senator Chafee, or liberal Republicans in general, can get elected in a Rhode Island general election for U.S. Senate in 2006. The former group thinks the time for change is now. The latter group thinks supporting Mayor Laffey is too much of a gamble and risks the future political viability of the Rhode Island Republican party.
Finally, and curiously, it should be noted that nowhere have I seen a rabid defense of Senator Chafee (other than perhaps in the columns of the ProJo’s M. Charles Bakst). Instead, those who support Chafee seem to do so based on his electability. So, in the end, the only group that seems to be unrepresented the internal RIGOP debate are self-proclaimed, outright supporters of Senator Chafee.

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Greg Easton
Greg Easton
18 years ago

I think you should qualify ‘more conservative’ when you reference Laffey. He’s ‘more conservative’ than Chafee. But so is Joe Leiberman and Zell Miller. It doesn’t make them Rebublicans.
I’m a Cranston resident. I put up with the tax increases because it was necessary at the time. Now the city is running a surplus. Where’s my tax cut?
A Conservative would have only burdened the taxpayers as long as absolutely necessary.
A Conservative wouldn’t have laid out the welcome mat for illegal aliens.
A Conservative wouldn’t have gone after oil companies for making a profit.
A Conservative Laffey isn’t.

Marc Comtois
18 years ago

First, I had thought that it implicit in the statement that I was referring to Laffey as being “more conservative” than Chafee, not anyone else one would randomly choose to mention. Is he more conservative than Reagan? Of course not! But there are no other Republican’s to choose from!
As far as your list of what a conservative wouldn’t do (that Laffey has), if you poke around, you’ll see postings on our site related to all of those unconservative actions. I’ve written about my skepticism regarding the conservatism of Laffey based upon the immigration deal, Don has written about Laffey’s attacks against both the drug companies and the oil companies.
I understand your frustration regarding Laffey and the property tax, and it is an issue he needs to address. But I’d also submit that Lincoln Chafee is no tax cutter, either.
There is a saying, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We all have our versions of the ideal candidate. For conservatives, Laffey– despite his flaws and oftimes overheated rhetoric–comes closer than Chafee to espousing conservative ideals. Read the postings under the topic RI Senate ’06. You’ll see that we’ve taken nothing for granted. Neither should you.

Marc Comtois
18 years ago

One last note. The “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” philosophy can also be argued by those who support Chafee as the best bet for maintaining a Republican held RI Senate seat. That is the current battle going on within the party. Both sides are genuine in their belief that they know what is right for the RIGOP. They each have different priorities. It is up to the rank and file RI Republicans to determine what risks they are willing to take, what ideals they are willing to put on the line and what ideals they are willing to sacrifice so that the RIGOP can put forth the best candidate in 2006.

18 years ago

Marc, I think you did a great job summarizing the perspectives on this matter. Two comments about not seeing a “rabid defense” of Chafee, though.
First, the fact that Chafee is getting attacked not only by the some conservative Republicans, but also by Whitehouse and Brown, indicates to me that he is still the most potent candidate in the field.
Second, the fact that he rubs both conservatives and liberals the wrong way is an indication that he falls right in the middle. Chafee’s views are probably in line with the views of the majority Rhode Islanders. This is how both he and his father got elected in this state. It is also why Laffey is trying to position himself as a independent-minded moderate (is Laffey really trying to be Chafee?).
Anyway, I’ve never seen a moderate politician draw “rabid support” or a “rabid defense” for that matter. In fact, “rabid” very seldom goes with the moderate label at all. Usually only conservatives and liberals are passionate in their beliefs. Likewise, moderates introduce very few new ideas. Instead, they serve as a bridge between conservatives and liberals to achieve a workable compromise.
In the grand scheme of government, moderates are necessary to ensure consensus and to move a political agenda forward. Yet you will never see a moderate be responsible for a Reagan Revolution or for a New Deal.

Tom W
Tom W
18 years ago

The problem is that there is an ASSUMPTION that a conservative can’t get elected in Rhode Island. BULL!
MOST Rhode Islanders are in essence “Reagan Democrats” – it’s just that “mainstream” RI Republicans don’t get it. In the late 1970’s these same types were convinced that Ronald Reagan was “too extreme” to get elected.
Does anyone really believe that the average Rhode Islander identifies with trust-fund babies Whitehouse and Brown??
Does the average “working family” in RI support ever-rising property taxes merely to provide mediocre schools and coddle the teachers unions? No! But this is the program of the Democrats – and a real vulnerability if RI Republicans would grow the cajones necessary to exploit it.
Does the average “working family” in RI support welfare programs that pay young women to produce illegitimate children? NO! But this is a hallmark of the Democrat Party – which silences timid RI Republicans afraid of being called “mean spirited.”
Does the average “working family” in RI support providing welfare for illegal immigrants? NO! But will RI Republicans (and national Republicans) “don’t want to offend the Hispanic vote.”
A conservative-leaning Republican Party would “speak for” and resonate with “working families” in Rhode Island – and could be the majority party!
“Moderate Republicans” have a difficult time getting elected in RI because they stand for nothing other than “well, I’m not a Democrat.” Not inspiring, not an alternative to Democrats … and offering no compelling reason for “working families” to “change brands.”
The “mainstream” Republican Party in RI is its own worst enemy.

18 years ago

Tom, you’re right. That explains the dozens of conservative Republicans who have represented RI in Congress over the past 40 years!!
The RI GOP has offered several conservative Republicans in the past, Dave Rogers being the the most recent. Let’s take a walk through some highlights of credible conservative Republicans running for federal office in RI over the past forty or so years….hmmm Burt Stallwood, John Slocum, Walter Miska, James DiPrete, Ray Houghton, Tom Needham, Ron Lagueux, Walter Sundlun. They all share one thing in common: ALL LOST.
Now let’s look at some of the moderate Republicans who have run: Lincoln Chafee, John Chafee, Ron Machtley, Claudine Schneider. They ALL WON.
That’s just counting a couple of the well-funded and popular conservative candidates without counting the dozens of conservatives running with no credentials such as John Matson and Bob Tingle.
Now ask me to sacrifice an incumbent GOP US Senate seat that may shift control of the body to the Democrats to bet on a challenger who may (or may not) really be a conservative. And ask me to do it for a challenger named Steve Laffey, a guy who most of my unaffiliated and apolitical friends say that they would never vote for a general election.
Remember the anti-drug commercial that says, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Get the picture?”
Well, get the picture?

18 years ago

Thank you for this post and for the comments that followed. I’m happy that my small contribution to the discussion got some more people talking about it. Quite informative. As for Anthony’s comments, “The RI GOP has offered several conservative Republicans in the past, Dave Rogers being the the most recent.” Sure, there have been some “conservatives,” mainly of the sacrificial lamb varity, who ran largely without the financial or really even moral support of the RIGOP. They being largely underfunded and left to fend for themselves, usually have lost. The smattering of “conservatives,” and I put that in quotes intentionally, that have run for one office or another here over the years (and I can probably count them on one hand), does not justify the idea that “conservatives cannot be elected in Rhode Island.” Again, I use the example of our governor. He may not fit the usual stereotype of a “conservative” that some, even within the GOP subscribe to. He’s not “scary” and isn’t known for shouting down his opponents, or whatever other derogatory stereotypes that some would have us believe. However, by any fair measure, based on objective reasoning, he is a conservative, and a darn good one at that! I’ve mentioned it before, I am not seeking perfection or idealogical purity for the Republican Party. I’ve often used the term “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I meant that. That should not be confused with “choosing the lesser of two evils.” Lincoln Chafee is a good guy. That being said, many of his positions, if not most of them, are inconsistent with my own personal beliefs, and with the stated principles of the majority of the Republican Party at large. I’m not going to try to prove that the sky is blue.… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
18 years ago

Anthony, Will understands my point. The RIGOP does not advocate for itself. Ask the average RI voter – even the average registered Republican – “what does the RI GOP stand for?” I suspect that blank stares will be the reply. In this day and age the agenda supported by “conservative Republicans” is more in line with “working families” than is that of the Howard Dean / RI General Assembly Democrats. But the average RI voter doesn’t know it because Republicans STILL let the Democrats define them as “the party of the rich.” Coupled with Republicans’ fear of offending constituencies that will vote Democrat anyway – the welfare lobby, “hard working state employees” etc. – the RIGOP running conservatives against the Democrat hegemony hasn’t really been tried. For example (and this comes from someone who has his doubts about Laffey), imagine if the RIGOP and the National GOP had put as much effort (as currently expended against Laffey) to support Dave Rogers against Patrick Kennedy. With a permanent 30% negative already, PK is definitely vulnerable. And imagine the media – and the momentum – garnered by “a Kennedy” being defeated “in Rhode Island, one of the most heavily Democratic states …” Other than tokenism, were you aware of any support that was given Dave Rogers? What major Republicans came here to campaign for him? Republicans writing off Rhode Island is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are convinced you are a loser, guess what, you will remain a loser. As for Chafee being necessary to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate … what majority? The “moderates” effectively block the conservative agenda and swing the momentum to the Democrats. So we have a Democrat minority that fights for what it believes in, and accomplishes much. Our “Republican majority” has accomplised little –… Read more »

18 years ago

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Maybe I did? Anyway, good job!

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