February 1, 2006

Move Over Senator

Marc Comtois

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?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Mr. Comtois,

Let me first say I enjoy this blog very much. I would like to point something out, in the name of fairness (I think).

In this post you state, "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)..."

Isn't it appropriate and fair to also point out that Mayor Laffey (don't job ugly on me Laffey people, I am not critisizing) apparently doesn't follow Reagan's 11th Commandment either? Or Mr. Toomey at the Club for Growth for that matter. Yes I know the Club for Growth is probably non-partisan (I think I read recently they endorsed a Democrat), but certainly Mr. Toomey, who ran as a Republican against Chairman Specter is a Republican breaking that rule too, right?

Again this is not a critisism, but maybe this wasn't included in your post on purpose, which is of course your right. I just thought that at the very least the question was worth asking, after all, that is what the comment section is for, correct?

Please keep up the good work, I enjoy reading.

Posted by: Grady Shipley at February 1, 2006 4:48 PM

The reality is that the Republican Party in RI has put up conservative candidates in the past and they usually lose.

In politics, idealism without pragmatism leads to irrelavance.

I'm not suggesting that voters should make up their mind solely on a pragmatic basis, but it does no one any good if the "good guys" always lose at election time.

There are exceptions to this general rule. Carcieri has shown that a conservative can win in RI. But the Carcieris of this state are few and far between.

Chafee still votes in the dead center of the US Senate. Compared to the rest of the delegation, Chafee is a neo-con! It makes no sense to turn over a Senate seat to the Democrats, particularly in a state like RI where senators often serve for a lifetime.

Posted by: Anthony at February 1, 2006 5:14 PM


Out of curiosity, do you think that Chafee not voting for President Bush is keeping with Reagan's 11th Commandment?

Also, who do you believe to be Republicans more in the mold of Ronald Reagan - Chafee and Specter? or Laffey and Toomey?

Posted by: Jim at February 1, 2006 5:55 PM

Lets not forget: Reagan broke his own commandment. He challenged incumbent President Ford in the '76 election. Ford was weak and taking the party in the wrong direction. Sound familiar? Republicans, we need to get back to our core! We need Laffey!

Posted by: Stretch Cunningham at February 1, 2006 6:39 PM


Remember Reagan was a dem. He changed his party affiliation when he realized that his core beliefs and guiding principles were much more in line with the Republican Party.

Chafee should do the same thing and just declare himself a dem.

Laffey is the true Reagan republican in this race.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at February 1, 2006 6:45 PM

Grady: Not to be too cute with my explanation, but I was making the point that Republicans don't regularly criticize other Republicans. The caveat is that I'm fairly certain that Reagan's maxim doesn't apply in elections. Now, how to square that, right? Well, I'm also pretty confident that having a national Republican organization such as the NRSC come down so hard on a fellow Republican in the early days of a primary is also not usually done. In hindsight, perhaps it was a little disingenuous to throw in the crack about the NRSC, but, frankly, they deserve it.

Anthony: By now, I'm intimately familiar with your argument vis a vis the perils of idealism and the benefits of pragmatism, but the Alito thing just finally did it for me. I've tried to hold on and keep my mind open, but the fact that Sen. Chafee was the only Republican to vote against Alito speaks volumes. As far as the "pragmatic" politics of it all, well, as I said, I don't think the national party is in as much danger as some would have us believe. And I think that we have to work toward fundamental change within the GOP at the state level. I know you disagree and that your focus is on the national level, but mine is on the local, where my family is currently most affected. Enough said: I don't want to belabor the points I already made in my post, but one last thing: a younger and more whimsical me would have quoted the character Booger from Risky Business. "Every once in a while, you have to say..."

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 1, 2006 7:57 PM

Boy, After reading that last bit, above, I'm starting to worry that all of you Laffeyites are getting to me...Now I'm taking on the personage of a fake character!

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 1, 2006 7:59 PM

Grady et al, I stand corrected [source]:

There are two myths about Mr. Reagan that persist to this day. One of them was that he never broke his 11th Commandment — "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican."

He did not just break that rule in his campaign against President Ford in the 1976 Republican primaries, he shredded it. When Mr. Reagan had begun winning primaries, Mr. Ford began harshly attacking Mr. Reagan in TV ads as a warmonger.

We were flying into Los Angeles in June 1976 after a weekend campaign swing, and I was seated next to Mr. Reagan for the last half hour of the flight. Until that time he had refused to strike back at Mr. Ford, but as I began to read the text of the attack ads to him, his Irish temper exploded. He called Ford "a crybaby," accused him of using "divisive" and "arm-twisting tactics," and warned that the president was "playing with fire" that threatened to destroy the party.

"And those phony war ads," he went on to say. "This angered me. Because again, it seemed to be... pushing beyond a point in which you'd have to say.... Well, sometimes I think he'd rather win a convention than win an election."

(I still think the NRSC deserves it).

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 1, 2006 8:11 PM

You got it right Marc.

Now, that everyone knows that Chafee votes against the Republicans on all the big issues,and that he is the only Republican to do so, all the Chafee crew has left is the electability argument, and that too will go away.

When you can't run on issues, but only on I can win the general election- you end up losing the primary election.

The vast majority of Republicans are willing to take a risk then get a lifetime guarantee of more junk from Chafee.

Thank God, Reagan didn't listen to the Chafees of his day, who said don't run against an incumbent or that he was was unelectable.

PS Marc, you have to admit the fake character personage stuff is pretty funny. You have alot of fun when you know you are winning, and you are doing something you believe in. Everytime, I read a blog by a Chafee guy who is defending Chafee he sounds like the guy from the Dunkin Donuts commercial.."Time to make the donuts."

Posted by: Fred Sanford at February 1, 2006 10:03 PM

We're not voting for mayor or governor, but for a US Senator. Hence, I think voters have to look at it from a national perspective. This would be a far easier election if the GOP had a 10 seat majority.

Posted by: Anthony at February 1, 2006 11:22 PM


Would you rather vote with 100% of your convictions or take the 0% route of voting against your convictions. There is probably a 20% chance, at best, that the Republicans lose the Senate. If you vote for Chafee, you are losing 100% of something that is very important to you and can never be reversed. Anyone using your logic to vote for Chafee faces this same poor risk/reward situation.

And what about the very real possibility that Chafee can't beat the democrats anyway. His popularity is steadily waning and just took an enormous hit that only a true scrapper will be able to recover from. The only things Chafee has demonstably fought for are Toby the Bear and Pork spending.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 2, 2006 12:51 AM

As I've often told people, some of the best Republicans, are former Democrats. As Reagan was always fond of saying, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me."

As for the 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican," I prefer to cite subsection (a): "That is, unless that Republican doesn't actually believe in the stated principles of the Republican Party."

Did you ever notice that the people who so often cite that, as if it's a blanket prohibition against challenging other Republicans when necessary, often are also the very same people that gave Ronald Reagan so much grief during his terms as Governor of CA, and as President? The irony is not lost on me.

Posted by: Will at February 2, 2006 1:45 AM

Anthony, As I tried to explain in my post, while it is true that Senator is indeed a national office, the fact is that our current Republican Senator wields too much power at the STATE level. Insofar as he doesn't reflect the beliefs of the "average" RI Republican, this should be rectified. Occasionally voting against one's party is fine: consistently voting against it when it matters most is not.

Finally, the argument of maintaining control of the Senate is just not washing with me. Larry Sabato, a respected political prognosticator explains it well here.

Here's his summary (but read the whole thing for more important details):

"The long and short of the "War for the Senate" in 2006 is this: Democrats are a good bet to pick up two or three seats net. But for Democrats to regain control of the Senate, almost everything has to fall just right for them. In politics, very occasionally those things happen--but only rarely do all the dominoes fall in one direction. And the Democrats will have to win the world championship of dominoes for the Senate to become theirs again this year."

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 2, 2006 7:29 AM

I would agree that the argument, "Chafee is our only hope in winning the general," has definitely become a moot point.

The Alito vote not only ticked off the conservatives, making a primary win close to impossible, but also frustrated all single-issue voters in regards to abortion. In RI, many of these single-issue voters are pro-choice. Proclaiming himself to also be pro-choice, it is assumed Chafee is soliciting their support. However, by voting for cloture on the Alito nomination he successfully alienated this group of voters who will now back a “true” pro-choice Democrat.

It is also likely that his no vote on Alito lost Chafee support from many Italian-American voters who would fall on both sides of the political spectrum, though tend to vote Democrat. Though I can’t quantify the affect this would have, RI does have the most Italians per capita of any state who maintain a strong political influence and have been highly vocal in their support of Alito.

Posted by: ian at February 2, 2006 9:32 AM


I appreciate you addressing my comment/question. Also, that was a great story you pulled from the Washington Times, thanks.


I appreciate your questions, but my comment/question was not on the Laffey/Chafee race, just how Marc presented his post to us.

Joe Mahn,

I do remember that Reagan was a Dem. and I agree with Will that some of the best Reppublicans started off as Dems!

Posted by: Grady Shipley at February 2, 2006 10:36 AM


Elections are never easy. They require a huge commitment of time and money, an iron will, the confidence, stamina, work ethic and internal fortitude of a pro athlete, the business savvy of a Fortune 50 (not 500) CEO, the people skills of a clergyman, the intellect of an academician, the leadership skills of a general, and the sense of humor of Rodney Dangerfield because you will not get any respect.

Chafee's greatest achievement is shoeing horses. Laffey ran a 2000 employee investment banking firm. Was its President and COO at 38. Came home and saved Cranston from bankruptcy, righted the ship, won reelection against all odds in a landslide… why am I saying all this? You know the guy’s record.

Read my lips—You will see Steve Laffey navigate the national political scene like no other Rhode Islander in recent history. MSNBC, Meet The Press, all the Sunday morning shows. You heard it here first.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at February 2, 2006 10:35 PM

For all the RINO's that keep bringing up Reagan's 11th commandment. Since most of them are in the RIGOP Senior leadership. It is not intended to cover you (RINO'S).


Your part about Some great Republican start as Democrats. Doesn't this phrase work just the same.
If your not a liberal at 20 years old you have no heart. If your not a Conservative at 40 Years old you have no BRAIN.

Posted by: Fred on the Blog at February 2, 2006 10:39 PM

Yeah, but I'd prefer for them not to wait until they're 40!

Posted by: Will at February 2, 2006 11:00 PM

I found your post very interesting.

In your first paragraph, you describe how difficult it is to win an election. I agree. Thousands of bright, qualified individuals have run for office and failed. It is a difficult task.

But in your second paragraph, you state that Chafee's greatest accomplishment was shoeing horses.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but only one of the two candidates in the GOP primary has actually won a statewide election. And that's Chafee, not Laffey.

I would suggest to you that Chafee's greatest accomplishment was not shoeing horses, but winning a seat in the United States Senate--something that Steve Laffey aspires to do.

Thus, Steve Laffey's greatest achievement will be when can replicate what Chafee accomplished six years ago.

Posted by: Anthony at February 7, 2006 10:37 PM