The 4 Things I Took Away from Laffey/Chafee 3
After the third Laffey/Chafee debate, I went “black” and avoided all punditry. Thus, here are the four (uninfluenced) items that stuck with me after the debate last night.
First: Chafee’s labeling of Federal tax dollars to local/state government–what Laffey calls “pork”–as “property tax relief” was pretty clever. Never heard that one before. And though Laffey tried to pooh-pooh it by saying he’s never heard a voter praise Chafee for tax relief, I think it was a rather ingenius attempt to blunt the “pork” argument. I’m not sure if it worked, but it was at least original.
Second: Laffey’s explanation about why he called for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. To paraphrase, “The administration went to war based on the worst case scenario and fought it based on a best case scenario.” Simply put, a good sound bite. It was clearly aimed at the independents in both the primary and the general election. Whether or not they view it as a genuine feeling or political gamesmanship is an open question.
Third: Laffey won the debate, both on style and on the substantive issues. I suspect that this is especially true in the eyes of most GOP members. However, while Laffey scored some points amongst the independents, Chafee probably did enough to keep a hold of most of them. If this were a debate prior to the general election, Chafee would have come out looking better. But it’s not.
Fourth: Because this was on C-SPAN, I couldn’t help but wondering what the average conservative Republicans across the land must have been thinking while watching the debate. Perhaps something like, “Those are what they call Republicans in Rhode Island?”
Most national political junkies–those most likely to watch a GOP debate in tiny, Democrat dominated RI on C-SPAN in the summer–probably knew that Lincoln Chafee is a moderate Republican who seems to enjoy being the far outlier of the GOP. However, I don’t think that the idealized “typical GOP” member was aware of Steve Laffey’s populist bent. He called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, accused the GOP run Federal government of corruption, and railed against “Big Oil”, to give a few examples.
Whether we in Rhode Island realize it or not, President Bush still has strong support in the GOP base across the country. What that base saw were two “Republicans” doing their damndest to distance themselves from a President of their own party (Glenn Reynolds makes a good point about this tactic. MAC); a President that most national GOP members agree with on most of the issues (Believe it, it’s true!). I don’t think they are envious of the choice that RI Republicans have to make in September. When viewed through the lens of what a “typical” conservative Republican might be, neither Laffey nor Chafee fits the bill.
But this isn’t Kansas: this is a uniquely Rhode Island race. Those of us who have been following it understand that both of these candidates are trying to do two things at once. They have to run against each other in the GOP primary and keep an eye on the Independent-dominated general electorate. That’s something that probably can’t be fully appreciated in other parts of the country. After all, what other state’s largest voting block doesn’t identify itself with either political party? Rhode Islanders like to take their cue from the Independent Man standing atop the State House. It would seem that–regardless of who they elect in the GOP primary–they’ll have that Man, in one form or another, to support in the general election.