I was tempted to frame this post around a list of the “lessons learned” from yesterday’s primary elections, but the fact of the matter is, that in most cases, we didn’t learn anything new: instead, we witnessed a thoroughly typical Rhode Island election.
Why do I say that? Show me an incumbent or longtime political insider who didn’t win yesterday? Chafee? He had both the name and incumbency. Centracchio? He ran a fairly muted campaign, but name recognition gave him a landslide. Mollis? Political insider if ever there was one. Langevin? Incumbent with a tough fight, but the result was never really in doubt. And so it went.
I guess that perhaps I did learn one lesson: while not ideologically conservative, Rhode Islanders are functionally conservative. They go to the polls and reafirm their support for the Kennedy’s and the Chafee’s every 2, 4, 6 years. They like their patricians. Yes, there are those–many of whom I suspect are not native to the state–who, election after election, make up the 30-40% who quixotically attempt to change the status quo. Those numbers haven’t changed in the decade plus that I’ve lived here, and it doesn’t appear as if they will any time soon.
So what to do? Now is not the time to strategize about reforming the Rhode Island GOP. In this election cycle, that is not going to happen. Instead, conservatives and our fellow-traveller populist/reformers have to look to a few short term goals.
The primary goal is to ensure the reelection of Governor Carcieri. There is little doubt in my mind that he is the closest thing to the ideal conservative there is here in Rhode Island. I’d also say to vote for the GOP in the various state office races. The state GOP has already written off many legislative races, but there is still some cause for optimism in the race for Lt. Governor and perhaps even Secretary of State. At the very least, even winning one or two of these offices would be progress and serve as some sort of check on Democrat power–and business as usual–in state government.
The Congressional races offer little hope for coservatives. Our choices in District 1 are between newcomer Jon Scott (R) and Patrick Kennedy (D) and in District 2 between Jim Langevin (D) and Rod Driver (I). The results of these two races are entirely predictable, but quixotic or not, Scott should be supported. Pick your poison in District 2.
Now, what to do about the U.S. Senate race between Lincoln Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse? First, I must compliment Mayor Laffey for his very conciliatory gesture of telling Senator Chafee that he would vote for him over Whitehouse in the general election. This is apparently in contrast to what the Chafee campaign had said they would do during the run-up to the election if the shoe had ended up on the other foot. (Who would have been unsenatorial, even petty, then?). Such grace will put Mayor Laffey in good stead when he runs for governor in four years (any doubts?). In the end, though he may have run as an outsider against both the national and state GOP, the bottom line is that in a race between a Republican and a Democrat, Mayor Laffey will stick with his party. Can the same be said about those who voted against Senator Chafee in this primary?
Justin has already indicated his dilemma and not a few Laffey supporters are now contemplating writing in “John Chafee.” I don’t have an answer for them. I can tell them that, for myself, sitting out an election or making a protest vote is not an option.
I’m as idealistic as the next conservative, but also recognize that there is a time for idealism and a time for pragmatism. For two years, I’ve attempted to rebut the pragmatic reasons for supporting Senator Chafee in the primary–he’s more electable and he can vouchsafe a GOP controlled (and thus more conservative) U.S. Senate–by offering arguments rooted in conservative beliefs.
For me, the primary is the best time to argue over the ideas that should undergird a political party and in this primary I tried to convince Rhode Island Republicans the value of maintaining conservative ideals against practical politics. In the end, I was unsuccessful. It was a spirited debate, but ideas lost and pragmatism won. It’s disappointing, but now pragmatism will simply have to be enough.