Move Over Senator
Thinking aloud over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru asks, “What do conservatives gain if Chafee wins?” But first he makes a case for conservative retribution against Sen. Chafee:
The more I think about it, the more important it seems to me that Steve Laffey beat him in the Rhode Island Senate primary.
None of the Republicans who voted against Bork in 1987, and none of the Democrats who voted against Thomas in 1991, paid any price. (It was the pro-Thomas senators who suffered: Democrat Alan Dixon lost a primary to Carol Moseley-Braun, and Arlen Specter had a tough general election.) If Chafee loses, it will make it harder for Snowe and Collins to vote against a qualified conservative in the next Supreme Court fight.
What do conservatives gain if Chafee wins? The hope that he would vote to keep Senate Republicans in the majority if it came down to him. We don’t know that he would vote that way; and it’s not clear that nominal control of the Senate matters all that much. Even if Laffey went on to lose the general election, taking out Chafee looks like a good move to me.
As some of you may have realized, I’ve basically come to that conclusion myself, though not from any desire for retributive action against Senator Chafee.
In a response to a critique of my post regarding where Sen. Chafee has differed from conservatives, I explained why I have decided that it’s time to send Sen. Chafee on his way. I think it’s proper for me to summarize my reasoning in a “regular” post so readers (and my fellow Anchor Rising contributors) can see where I stand on the Laffey/Chafee race.
Anchor Rising is a conservative blog, not a Republican blog. I am a registered Republican, but I’m a conservative first. I am more concerned with growing the conservative movement within the state than I am with keeping a liberal Republican in national office merely for the false promise of “goodies” for my state.
It is a political reality that the home for conservatives is the GOP. Unfortunately, Sen. Chafee–the face of the RIGOP at the national level–has shown time and again that he is most comfortable being a liberal Republican. In fact, it’s as if he revels in the attention he accrues for being a Republican wildcard. His position as the only Republican in our congressional delegation has given both he and his supporters considerable power–both direct and indirect–within the State GOP, especially at the top of the state GOP hierarchy.
Additionally, though there are many leaders within the RIGOP who are more conservative than Sen. Chafee (such as Governor Carcieri), these leaders have chosen to be “pragmatists” and “grin and bear it” as Sen. Chafee routinely votes against the interests of his President and the interests of the majority of the Party he calls “home.” They are understandably reluctant to break Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment (“Never speak ill of another Republican”; the same cannot be said for the NRSC), especially in a state with such a small GOP contingent. But the willingness of the RIGOP to accept whatever Senator Chafee does for the sake of having a seat at the national GOP’s table is starving their own conservative base.
The Alito confirmation vote is the most recent and stark example of how much Sen. Chafee differs from even his fellow liberal/moderate Republicans like Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. He was the only Republican to vote against confirmation of Justice Alito, a nominee of a President of his own party. Yes, the GOP is a “big tent” party–but Sen. Chafee usually isn’t in the tent when the Main Event is in the center ring!
Eventually, the RI GOP–whether from the “bottom up” or the “top down”–has to make a decision: Continue being satisfied with the status quo and the shenanigans of our “independent” Senator, or send the sort of message that is long overdue. Currently, Mayor Steven Laffey is the vehicle through which conservative members of the RIGOP can best make such a statement. Mayor Laffey isn’t a “perfect” conservative (if such a thing exists), but he is undeniably more conservative than Sen. Chafee. At the least, he will support President Bush on the big issues like the War in Iraq. I am not condoning some sort of ideological purity within the RIGOP, nor am I naive enough to believe such a thing is achievable. All I desire is that the RIGOP begin to reflect the predominant ideals of the majority of its members, from the top on down.
Regardless of whether or not Sen. Chafee has a better chance than Mayor Laffey of winning the general election is not as important as how the nomination of each effects the structure of the RIGOP. If–as Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local”–then it’s time for RIGOP to concern ourselves with our own backyard. Party building requires its members to be inspired, something that has been sorely lacking within the GOP. Inspiration requires leadership, but it also requires that the members “buy-in” to a message in which the truly believe. Even if Mayor Laffey should win the primary, but lose the general election, few can doubt that his views are more in line with the majority of the RIGOP.
Many say that RI is a “liberal” state, and that having a liberal Republican is the best that we can do. That is both pessimistic and defeatist. Conservatives have to realize that there is no law stating hat RI will always be “liberal.” We are not consigned to some permanent fate. We have the ability to change Rhode Island, but only through optimism and hard work will we be successful.
After 1964, Barry Goldwater was considered a fringe candidate who had led the nascent national conservative movement to a fiery death. In 1980, Ronald Reagan proved them wrong. In between 1964 and 1980, Reagan and others led a grassroots movement that spread the conservative message throughout the nation. Unfortunately, with the exception of a brief period during the 1980s, that message has been forgotten in Rhode Island. It is past time that Rhode Island conservatives rectify that situation. The first step is to change the attitude and direction of the RIGOP. So long as we continue to derive inspiration from our conservative ideals and values–and don’t accept vague promises of maintaining our little slice of the political pie–we can be confident in our attempt to fundamentally change the Rhode Island Republican Party. Change has to start somewhere and sometime: Why not here, why not now?