January 26, 2006

Chafee and Alito: Which Way to go?

Marc Comtois

From Chris Cillizza's Washington Post Politics Blog (via John J. Miller at NRO):

[Sen. Lincoln] Chafee remains the most high-profile undecided senator on Alito, and regardless of which side he eventually chooses, he can expect to be bashed for it.

Chafee faces a primary challenge from Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R). Should he get through that race, he will face off against either former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (D) or Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) in a state that went for the Democratic presidential candidate by 20 points in 2004.

A Chafee vote for Alito will make for considerable fodder for either Brown or Whitehouse. But a vote against Alito could give Laffey the GOP nomination.

Asked about the seeming conundrum, Chafee campaign manager Ian Lang said that "from a purely political standpoint this is a lose-lose situation." Lang said Chafee will put aside political interests, however, and make a decision that is in the "best interests of the country and the best interests of Rhode Island."

Laffey, who is running as a populist outsider and to Chafee's ideological right, has already sought to make the senator's indecision on Alito an issue in the campaign. "As long as we have known Senator Chafee he has shied away from taking a firm stance on the critical issues of the day," Laffey said in a recent news release. The release also noted that Chafee didn't vote for President George W. Bush in 2004, recalling Chafee's decision to cast a symbolic vote for former President George H.W. Bush instead.

A source close to Laffey said "voting against Alito, and doing so in the indecisive manner in which [Chafee] is conducting himself, underscores exactly what Rhode Island Republicans most dislike about Chafee -- he sides with the liberals on all the big issues, and he's weak and can't make up his mind."

Chafee, perhaps the most moderate Republican in the Senate, must be cognizant of the Republican base as he weighs how to respond to Laffey's primary challenge. . .

So in order to win the GOP primary, Chafee must not only convince a cavalcade of independents to support him but also take a chunk of traditional Republican votes. With that calculation in mind, one source close to the Chafee campaign said the the senator "can survive a 'yes' [on Alito] vote a lot easier in the general election than he can survive a 'no' vote in the primary election."

I wonder: what does Sen. Chafee consider "the best interests of the country and the best interests of Rhode Island"? I hope he elaborates when he announces his decision.

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I'd like to compliment both anonymous sources mentioned in the article (one from each side) for providing a national audience with a concise and accurate analysis of the situation.

Posted by: Andrew at January 26, 2006 2:47 PM

Here Here Andrew. Well put. Of course, the clock is still ticking and where is Chafee? He must know which way the political winds are blowing now.....

Posted by: Leonard Marshall at January 26, 2006 4:48 PM

Indeed Leonard, Chafee is no doubt trembling in fear. He has already lost credibility with both sides. Now he must choose between NARAL and Republican voters. Will the ultimate decision be based on the interests of his constituency, or based on political calculation? The drawn out decision process indicates the latter.

Posted by: Fighting Joe Hooker at January 26, 2006 5:34 PM

I'm undecided between Chaffee and Laffey. What's so great about Alito? I think I'd rather have someone in the Roberts vein.

Posted by: John at January 26, 2006 6:01 PM


What is wrong with Alito? Why would you even ask that question? Chafee if he was not the Tin Man from the wizard of OZ! "For the people on the upper east side" If he only had a brain. I think I will start using that parody like Rush Limbaugh uses "The People from Rio Linda" Chafee will vote for Alito if he thinks he will even have a chance to win the Primary.
As it has been stated by John Wayne in the Movie The Sands of IWO JIMA
Life Is Tough But It Is Tougher If Your Stupid

Posted by: Fred on the Blog at January 26, 2006 7:10 PM

I heard Chaffee was way ahead in the latest straw poll. I want to vote for a winner. Does Laffey even stand a chance. I just want to make sure the party of Lincold ends up in the White House and not Matt Brown :)

Posted by: Peter Jones at January 26, 2006 7:22 PM

To let everyone know it maybe time to take on the Brown Democrats at WWW.BrownDemocratsblog.org it is a place to mold the Blue Dress Society of THE UPPER EAST SIDE

Posted by: Fred on the Blog at January 26, 2006 7:54 PM

Fred's on a roll tonight. I like the whole "tin man" thing. I think I see a good campaign commericial in the making.

As for Chafee's vote, I almost don't care at this point, which is perhaps his own rationale for waiting so long to let us know what/if he thinks about the Alito nomination. He knows he's basically screwed either way he votes, so he's just trying to figure out the least politically damaging option. It basically comes down to this: which group can he most afford to offend?

I'm still going with my original assumption: unless his vote is required for confirmation, WHICH IT NO LONGER IS, because he's made it irrelevant, then he will vote based on his "feelings," which means, a NO vote on Alito.

Posted by: Will at January 27, 2006 1:00 AM

I'd be willing to stake a lot of cash that Chafee votes for Alito. If he doesn't, I plan on publishing an open letter to the Bush Administration as well as the Republican National Committee asking them why they continue to support a candidate that does not support them?

Posted by: don roach at January 27, 2006 5:22 AM

Chaffe has become a national joke. This from the Corner:

CHAFEE WATCH [John J. Miller]
If you walk by the Senate's Russell Building tonight, you're bound to see a light in one of the windows, into the wee hours of the morning. It will emanate from Lincoln Chafee's office. The senator is pulling an all-nighter, continuing to review the transcripts to those Alito confirmation hearings. He's going to make a decision soon on whether to support or oppose the nomination. He just needs a little more time.
Posted at 08:18 PM

This guy can get voted out of office soon enough -- he is a disgrace -- tom

Posted by: tom m at January 27, 2006 9:52 AM

Chafee could only wish that this snippet from The Corner find its way into the local media!

Most voters would be glad to know that a Senator was actually reading the hearing transcript rather than voting strictly on emotion and ideology. It's called "doing your job"!

Tom M., if you're trying to help your guy Laffey, you're not doing a very good job of it!

Posted by: Anthony at January 27, 2006 12:31 PM

Chafee is in a tough spot, but not as tough as one might expect. He has more to lose by voting for Alito than by voting against Alito.

Most conservatives have made up their mind to vote or not vote for him regardless of Alito. The hardcore pro-Laffey people aren't going to switch to Laffey if Chafee votes for Alito. In fact, he'll get no credit for supporting Alito whatsoeever.

However, the left-leaning groups that would support him in the general election may abandon him.

My prediction: Chafee will vote for Alito.

Not for a politically calcuated reason, but because he feels it's the right thing to do.

Tom M., while I respect you standing up for your old Bowdoin roomdog, one of the reasons Rhode Islanders support Chafee is because he votes without regard to political gain and gives careful consideration to issues. RI is different than your New York stomping grounds in this respect.

Tom M., if I were advising Steve, I'd suggest that the campaign focus on his strengths (i.e., being smart and hard-working) rather than trying to highlight perceived Chafee weaknesses that many Rhode Islanders view as strengths.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Anthony at January 27, 2006 12:53 PM

At this point in time, after all the discussion, after all the dirt digging by the lunatic left, after all the Judiciary committee hearings, we all know what we are dealing with in Judge Alito. There is NOTHING more to know. NOTHING!

The notion that Chafee will be making a "principled" decision is absurd. It is precisely a lack of principles that has Chafee boxed in like this and that is what has kept him from announcing how he'll vote at this point in time.

Now, he is merely calculating the political ramifications of his decision. Will said it perfectly - which group can he most afford to offend.

Posted by: jim at January 27, 2006 1:25 PM

If you've ever served on a jury, the judge urges each juror to review every piece of information even if the evidence appears to be overwhelming one way or the other. It's called being thorough and I view it as a positive trait.

Posted by: Anthony at January 27, 2006 2:35 PM


That's good spin and I know you'd like to believe that, but ALL the information is known and has been known and now Chafee is merely calculating the political ramifications of his decision.

The dynamic at play here is that a "yes" vote, helps him in the primary, and may hurt him in the general, and a "no" vote hurts in the primary, but may help in the general.

Don't kid yourself, Anthony - Chafee's decision on Judge Alito is PURELY political at this point.

Posted by: Jim at January 27, 2006 3:41 PM

I looked up "the best interests of the country and the best interests of Rhode Island" in my Chafee to English Dictionary. Certainly looks like a NO vote to me!

Posted by: Will at January 27, 2006 9:48 PM

For those of you who are wondering where Chafee is, you might be interested in participating in this: http://republicansenate.org/?p=286

Posted by: Sean at January 27, 2006 11:01 PM


"he votes without regard to political gain and gives careful consideration to issues."

All your blather about how thoughtful Chafee is and how he is doing his homework would be great if it were December 29th and not January 29th.

The complexity of the political games we all view from our many and varied perspectives is done from the stands not from the floor. The players actually have the power of the vote. Take away that value and you are left with nothing.

Your keen insights and detailed explanations offered as reasons for Chafee’s independence are unfortunately viewed in the same light as the value of your man’s vote… they are irrelevant. And irrelevant like irrational is just plain bad.

A United States Senator is elected by the people as a leader and a representative of his or her constituents. Chafee is neither.

Get real and face the facts.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at January 29, 2006 10:11 PM