February 10, 2005

A Foregone Conclusion (Or Is It "Forgone"?)

Justin Katz

Ramesh Ponnuru raises a sore point for Rhode Island conservatives:

If Langevin wins the Democratic primary, I'd be open to the idea that conservatives should support him over Chafee. Langevin at least votes pro-life most of the time.

I'll admit that I don't get out there and network as much as I should, but my sense is that there's a whole lot of antipathy to Chafee among Rhode Island conservatives. In fact, I've never observed even hesitance when I've half-joked that we should make it a cause to unseat him, regardless of who would take his place in the Rhode Island delegation.

Unless the choice is between Chafee and Patrick Kennedy, even a liberal Democrat may benefit from conservatives' skipping that line on the ballot. Personally, I think there's a strong argument to be made that our long-term interests are better served by letting the seat slip, clearing the boards for the looming intra-Republican scuffle, and attempting to rebuild the state's political balance once that hard first step is over.

Of course, the wonkish wisdom of the move may not ultimately be a factor anyway. Especially taking into account Senator Chafee's general conduct and demeanor since September 11, many of us just don't have the mastery of our emotions to actively assist in perpetuating the embarrassment.

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One would hope that maybe Steve Laffey would challenge Linc for the Republican nod. Of course the White House would probably offer the traitorous Chafee the same support it gave Arlen Specter. In a Kennedy-Chafee race, truly a contest of empty suits I think I would have to abstain. Should Langevin throw his hat in the ring, I could be comfortable voting for him against Chafee.

Posted by: mike hamilton at February 10, 2005 1:51 PM

I respectfully disagree. Unless RI Democrats run someone to the right of Chafee, I think Republicans should faithfully pull the Chafee lever. Failure to do so would elect yet one more liberal Democrat and bring Harry Reid one vote closer to being Majority Leader.

Further, dumping Chafee so that a civil war will break out in the RI GOP would be a death knell for the Republican Party in that state. RI is not secretly waiting for the true conservatives to ride back in and save them from mushy moderates. To the contrary, RI is one of the most liberal states in the nation. The only kind of Republican that can win there is the liberal kind. It's this kind of thinking --- that conservatives should demand nothing less than ideological purity --- that has destroyed the GOP in Illinois, New Jersey, and California.

Posted by: Dave at February 10, 2005 1:52 PM

You might want to consider what happened in similar circumstances to your neighbors here in Connecticut. The case in point was Lowell Weicker. Many of us GOP faithful supported Joe Lieberman when he ran to the right -- there was plenty of room -- of Weicker.

Well, it worked. Joe's still there, talking sensibly much of the time but voting pretty much the same as Chris Dodd. To make it worse, Weicker got elected governor and stuck us with an income tax.

When you have a liberal state you get liberal officeholders, regardless of party affiliation.

Posted by: Winston Orcutt at February 10, 2005 2:06 PM

Just discovered your blog... being a fellow RhodeIslandah, I don't know how I missed it.

one glaring question pops up about this particular article....


Chafee's a joke, to both sides of the political spectrum. A liberal democrat in wolf's clothing.. and he's as close to an opposition as there is here.

Posted by: Jim S at February 10, 2005 2:21 PM


I'm happy to have you disagree — especially respectfully! Just the discussion can surely play a beneficial role.

The reality is that the RI GOP is pretty well atrophied anyway. Its three stars (not granting Chafee the title) are the non-politician governor, a Kennedy-challenger who wasn't initially favored by the party, and Mayor Laffey, who is leading the rebels, so to speak. Moreover, "a death knell" needn't be the end for the party in this state, especially when it holds the majority federally and Rhode Islanders are finally starting to break their apathy and wonder about that strange political principle: a two-party system.

I've the lost friendships and weathered the financial hardships to prove your suggestion that "RI is not secretly waiting for the true conservatives to ride back in and save them from mushy moderates." Nonetheless, and leaving aside the accuracy of calling Chafee a "moderate," the modest gains for Republicans in the past election raise questions about the efficacy of offering Rhode Islanders a Democrat-lite party.

I neither expect nor desire the RI GOP that would emerge from a "civil war" to be conservative by national standards. Still, a party following the template of compromise between conservatives and libertarians could do well in a state that desperately needs to add a bit of true rivalry to its political workings.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 2:28 PM


With all due respect, what destroyed the GOP here in Illinois was the corruption, criminality and general nitwitery of Govenor George Ryan, not ideological purity. By not impeaching that jerk, the entire party was tarred with complicity and that made it impossible to elect anyone in 2004. Having Alan Keyes lose his mind didn't help much either.

Posted by: Eric at February 10, 2005 4:12 PM

California Republican's intra-party fight handed Barbara Boxer an easy victory in 1992. Ever since then, Republicans kept losing until Arnold, a moderate/liberal Republican came along.

The importance of keeping a Senate majority, hence demoralizing aging dem. Senators cannot be underestimated.

Posted by: Jerry at February 10, 2005 6:36 PM

I think we should concentrate on seats in places like N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Arkansas, and other Red states. Why does Montana have a democrat senator for example. Chafee is unreliable, and could pull a Jeffords the next time he is safely elected for a new 6 year term.

Posted by: Patrick at February 10, 2005 8:26 PM

Congressman John Langevin, who is pro-life and wheelchair-bound, would wipe the floor with the religiously pro-abortion Lincoln Chafee in the heavily Catholic state of Rhode Island. I think that RI Democrats understand that, and will clear the field for Langevin to run against Chafee. (BTW, I know that Lincoln Chafee beat pro-life Democrat Congressman Bob Weygand in 2000, but (i) Langevin is a former Secretary of State and more popular than Weygand and (ii) Rhode Islanders didn't know just how much of a tool Lincoln Chafee was back in 2000.

I think Chafee's only chance to be reelected is if Patrick Kennedy decides to run for the Senate and buys his way to the Democrat nomination (after his dad calls Langevin a misogynist cripple), since as terrible as Chafee is even he could kick Patrick Kennedy's butt in a statewide general election. So what options do Rhode Island Republicans have? Republicans could kick Chafee out in the primary, but the only Republican who would be favored against Langevin in the general election would probably be pro-life Governor Don Carcieri, who will surely be running for reelection (both the Senate seat and the governorship are up in 2006). A better solution might be to kick Chafee off of a sub-committee chairmanship or something so that he makes it official and finally leaves the GOP. I assume that the Democrats would discourage Langevin from running in the Democrat primary against someone who recently switched parties in order not to discourage other RINOs from switching, and I think that a Republican Senate candidate with decent name ID would have a good chance of defeating Lincoln Chafee in a general election, especially one in which Governor Carcieri is running for reelection.

Chafee sits in the following committees:

1. Foreign Relations (3rd of 10 Republicans and Chairman of the Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Subcommittee)

2. Environment and Public Works (5th of 10 Republicans, and Chairman of the Superfund and Waste Management Subcommittee)

3. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (6th of 9 Republicans)

See: http://www.senate.gov/general/committee_assignments/assignments.htm

I'm certain that the GOP would be able to keep its current 2-seat advantage in these committees even if the number of GOP Senators dropped from 55 to 54. In fact, I believe that this could be accomplished by keeping the same number of Republicans and Democrats in the committee, which, given the fact that Chafee has been an imposter on the GOP side, would mean that the GOP would have a net gain of 2 Republicans on those committees (one fewer de facto Democrat and one more real Republican). If the size of the committees was kept the same but Chafee became a Democrat member of the committees, it would benefit the GOP particularly in the Foreign Relations Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee, in which Chafee has seniority and would certainly be given a spot by the Democrats. The lowest-ranking Democrat---in fact, the only first-year Democrat---in each of those committees is one Barack Obama. The Democrats won't want to drop their "rising star" Obama from those two committees, but none of the other Democrats with more seniority will give up without a fight. Republicans could just sit back and enjoy the show.

But if, instead, the Democrats insisted on each of those committees adding 2 members with the GOP still having a 2-vote advantage (which could happen, since it would mean that the GOP would have closer to 54% of the members of those committees as opposed to a bit over 55%), then the GOP would still have a pickup of two real Republicans. Chafee would join the other Democrats on the committee, but 2 real Republicans would be added to the committee. Obama would stay put, but we would have much stronger control of the agenda of the committees than we currently do.

As for the 2006 election, as a Republican, I'd rather have a Republican (such as Laffey, or even Almond or Machtley) face Chafee in the general election than face Langevin in the general election, since I don't think any Republican but Carcieri would beat Langevin in an open-seat Senate race but I think that Chafee, even if he ran as a Democrat, would lose to a good Republican candidate. *Somebody* has to be willing to run against Judas Chafee if he finally switched to the Democrats. And in the meantime, we'd have some truth-in-labeling with Chafee as a Democrat and we'd be able to add two net real Republicans to all of the committees in which he sits.

Posted by: AuH2ORepublican at February 11, 2005 12:18 PM

Nice, informative post AuH2ORepublican (Nice handle!). We must be on the same wavelength.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 11, 2005 4:37 PM