September 20, 2005

Chafee v. Laffey: Yorke Interviews GOP Nat'l Senate Committee Spokesman Nick

Marc Comtois

Following is a rough summary of Dan Yorke's interview with Republican National Senatorial Committee spokesperson Brian Nick.

First, Dan Yorke found it provocative that Elizabeth Dole personally tried to talk Steve Laffey out of running against Sen. Chafee. Nick explained that Dole told Laffey that the mission of the Senatorial Commitee is to protect incumbents. By that rationale, they will support Sen. Chafee. Above that, their data shows that the best way to keep a Senate seat and to keep the Senate in GOP hands is to keep Chafee, the incumbent, on the ballot. As such, worrying about a primary is not conducive to the priority they have put on re-electing Sen. Chafee.

Yorke then asked about why Laffey is regarded as a liability. To this, Nick answered that, first, since an incumbent is elected 85% of the time, incumbency is a lot more of a guarantee then having a wide open election. Second, as far as the issues break down, from their understanding of talking to both Chafee and folks in Rhode Island, Sen. Chafee fits the mainstream of where most Rhode Islander's are on the issues. Finally, putting someone on the ticket who is untested, has no understanding of Washington, D.C., no relationship with the Senate or the President and is simply not ready does not appeal to them.

Yorke asked if they had done any research on Laffey. Nick stated that Laffey was initially tough to read: he's raised taxes, but word of mouth had it that he's a conservative. Then there is a T.V. add that sounds like a John Kerry or Hillary Clinton demonizing the Republican's energy policy. To them, it seems like Laffey's people are focus grouping to find his niche.

Yorke joked that they should have figured out that the worst thing to do was to have Elizabeth Dole try to cajole the contrarian-by-nature Laffey into not running. That was the wrong M.O.

To this, Nick said that, though they knew that going in, they thought it possible he could be persuaded. He then offered that they had thought he could be persuaded to run for some of the other open RI political offices (Lt. Gov, State Treasure). Then, in an unsolicited aside, he stated that Chafee will have to beat Laffey in the primary and it'll be more expensive and more time consuming, but there'll be a certain amount of enjoyment in ending his [Laffey's] career before it started.

Picking up on this, Yorke asked why the animosity, to which Nick stated that they felt that Laffey didn't respect the privacy of the meeting with Dole and that, in general, he has handled things without a lot of respect.

Yorke replied that it seemed to him that this isn't just one of those go-through-the-motions-to-support-an-incumbent deal, but that this guy [Laffey] "has pissed you off." Nick responded that, "I can tell you this, has he been helpful to the overall agenda? No."

Yorke commented that they were getting a flavor of Laffey and that because he squeeled and violated protocol, they were going after him. Nick responded that, while Laffey does like to lecture people, we don't want to curse him and we will make sure Chafee is re-elected.

Yorke then asked about the Laffey "tax machine" add campaign and Nick explained how it came about. He added that, from his understanding, Laffey prides himself as being a fiscal conservative, but he [Nick] was pretty sure that, if you personally have raised taxes, you can't have anti-tax rhetoric and be persuasive.

Yorke responded that that may be true, but Cranston was in pretty dire straits. To this, Nick responded that, while that may be true, it is his contention that Laffey didn't need to raise taxes to the extent he did.

Yorke asked about Laffey's latest add concerning the price of oil. Nick then brought out what he obviously felt was a hammer. According to Nick, while Laffey says he's going to take on and stand up to the special interests, Laffey himself profited from oil and gas interests while he was in Memphis, TN. And now he promises to take them on.

Finally, Yorke asked if they were really "holding your nose a bit with Chafee" who has been a thorn in the side of the Bush Administration? Nick responded that, while it was an important point, we don't work for the Administration, we want what's best for the Senate majority. Sometimes those things aren't the same. Accordingly, Chafee as an independent Senator is admirable and politically smart and he's a valuable member of the caucus. Yorke mentioned Chafee's vote for Bush, Sr. in the last election and Nick responded that he's [Chafee] willing to speak his mind and take a stand and to speak for the people of Rhode Island.

There you have it. In essence, to the GOP Senatorial Committee, it's about keeping incumbents in office and maximizing the chance of maintaining a majority. If that means sacrificing ideology, so be it. Of course, it's not as if Mayor Laffey can be considered a "mainstream" conservative himself, given his recent ad campaign rhetoric! In short, it appears as if we RI conservatives should say "how-de-do" to Mr. Rock and Mr. Hardplace when it comes to the coming RIGOP primary.

*note: Minor text edits and cleaning up done @ 7:40 PM. MAC

UPDATE:This story in the Warwick Beacon has more on the links between Mayor Laffey and the oil industry, including the charges made by Nicks and the response from Laffey.

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So I guess we wait until after the focus groups are done to find out what Laffey believes?

Marc, the Senate Committee isn't "sacrificing ideology". It is doing what's best to promote the ideology nationally and that means keeping Chafee. If the GOP loses the RI and PA seats, Republicans will be in a great deal of trouble and they know it.

My bet: Laffey will run left to appeal to Democrats.

Posted by: Anthony at September 20, 2005 5:59 PM

1. Marc: great post.

2. Dan Yorke: great interview (or maybe Marc cleans you up well).

3. The institutional weakness of the state party has convinced outsiders that the state is more liberal than it is. So they’ve given up on us. But we elected a pro-life Congressman in RI, and Jack Reed is the most popular politician in the state, in part, because he is considered sane on national security issues, especially by Democratic standards.

4. I guess I’m on an island by myself here, but this “ending career” talk really bothers me. Yes, let’s end the career of a talented Republican politician as soon as we can. Lord knows, we’re overflowing with talented Republican politicians here in Rhode Island. Is the party even going to bother to field candidates in the Congressional elections this year?

5. Laffey won’t run to the left of Chafee. He’ll run as the actual moderate (which may be true) vs. Chafee as the worst possible mix of Rep/Dem characteristics: radical position on abortion (pro-partial birth, anti-parental notification), incoherent on national security, crony of big business.

Posted by: Andrew at September 20, 2005 6:35 PM


The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NSC) has nothing to do at all with promoting or advancing any ideology. They quite plainly stand for nothing. They certainly don't stand for Republican principles or for backing candidates that do. They are a fundraising mechanism for incumbents. They'll support crooks, liars, and imbeciles with equality of opportunity, as long as their person happens to be an incumbent seeking reelection. The NRSC spokesman, Brian Nick, on the radio earlier, basically admitted that their organizations' support for Chafee has nothing to do with him personally, but on their own perceived self-interests in holding the seat, based on the assumption that if Laffey were to win the primary, that he would or could not win the general election. Flatly, I believe their assumption to be grossly mistaken. Mr. Nick should really find work in another field, because no one with half a brain that listened to the radio today is going to buy the talking points which Dan Yorke rightly called him to task on.

Currently, the GOP holds 55 Senate seats. Demographics in most regions of the country (except the Northeast) would tend to indicate that the GOP will be in a position to add to that total; not lose. I agree that PA could be an issue, Rick Santorum doesn't do something to stop the bleeding. Hopefully, the RNC will be at least as supportive of Sen. Santorum, as they were of Sen. Specter in 2004. All things being equal, the GOP could probably afford to lose a little deadweight in the Senate anyway.

I wouldn't go placing any bets too quickly (especially in Rhode Island casinos) on "Laffey running to the left." The idea of Laffey running to the left of Chafee is kind of funny, in that Chafee is already to the left of about 1/2 of the Democrat caucus! Don't confuse "populism" with communism. As for Mayor Laffey, he's just going to be Laffey. What you see is what you get. That means he'll be his own man, who won't be afraid to speak his mind -- who will be willing to take on those issues, interests, and people which he believes are working against the best interests of most hardworking Rhode Islanders.

For the primary, Laffey wants to appeal to registered Republicans, and Republican-leaning independent voters, much like Gov. Carcieri did to win in 2002. As I always love to point out, Gov. Carcieri wasn't the endorsed or establishment candidate either, going into his primary. Much of the then establishment tried to talk him out of running, too.

Lastly, a reminder: Laffey is trying to win the Republican primary, not the Democrat one!

Posted by: Will at September 20, 2005 6:53 PM

Will largely responded, but I'd just like to add, for my own part, that you'd get a better idea of how I feel if you disabuse yourself of the notion that I'm some sort of Laffey cheerleader. What I most definitely am is conservative, and it troubles me, though it doesn't surprise me, when I see the political party that I had hoped could maintain some smidgen of ideological consistency sacrifice it for the purpose of maintaining power. Especially when, as Will pointed out, the chances that Chafee's seat is that important seems slim to me. I may be wrong, but I just don't think there is as much to worry about as the GOP Senate Committee does. If I had to guess, I think they are doing a bit of fear-mongering to drum up more donations. Cynical? Yup.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at September 20, 2005 7:25 PM

Fear-mongering in politics? I'm aghast! For the record, while I support Mayor Laffey over Senator Chafee, I am not marching in lockstep or a mindless drone or whatever other perjorative term one could think up. I'm probably much more conservative than Mayor Laffey -- and that's okay. All I know is that he is motivated to do good for the right reasons; he is certainly more conservative than the sitting Senator; and that he's not in it for the money. Given all of my choices, or not choosing at all, I choose to support the Mayor. Not obly do I believe he can win; I believe he will win.

Let's just say, I had a somewhat similar issue as Sen. Chafee did, as to whether or not to vote for President George W. Bush last Fall. However, my main concern was the feeling that the President wasn't conservative enough! However, unlike the good Senator, I actually did vote for the President in the end. I still display my Bush-Cheney '04 bumper sticker on my car!

Posted by: Will at September 20, 2005 10:17 PM

Methinks that we should disabuse ourselves of the (now quaint) notion that the Republican Party is "the" (or "a")party of conservatives / conservative values.

We conservatives IMHO would be better off not supporting the party per se, but supporting individual candidates that are conservative (or at least mostly so).

And if there are no such candidates, sit out that race, if not the election entirely (or throw away votes on inconsequential third-party candidates as a "protest").

And if the means that on occassion Democrats (who might not otherwise have) win elections, so be it. True, it will be painful, and perhaps in some instances disastrous. But in the longer term, perhaps necessary.

After all, but for the disastrous Jimmy Carter odds are we wouldn't have had President Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: Tom W at September 20, 2005 11:52 PM

I agree with Tom (mainly). There has been a trend over recent years to celebrate "the middle," and to denegrate those who hold "partisan" views or ideology, as if that's a horrible thing. There's no shame in advancing the notion that in order for you to be right, someone else has to be wrong. As much as society tries to advance the notion that "everyone has to be a winner," it is not something that happens in the real world.

Quite true, the Republican Party, in reality, is not "the conservative party." However, it is the party where conservatives who wish to preserve or to change public policy, have the best opportunity at having their ideas implemented through the democratic process. Since we do not have a parliamentary form of government in the USA, in order to get to 51%, it's sometimes necessary to work with those whom you do not agree with on everything. As Reagan put, "work with those who agree with you at least 85% of the time," and then once you've gotten most of what you want, then focus your efforts on the remaining 15%. A necessity in our form of government is that in order to have any lasting influence over public policy at all, one must first gain power.

I do have some disagreement with Tom, regarding the idea of "throwing away a vote." While I'm not suggesting that voting should be based on the concept of "the lesser of the two evils," I am suggesting that it is very important "not to make the perfect the enemy of the good." That means, if on the whole, a candidate agrees with a super-majority of your own views, or the principles of the party that you belong to, you should feel comfortable voting for that candidate, even if you disagree with the candidate about other, less consequential issues.

Using the above criteria, I could not in good conscience vote for Sen. Chafee in a primary, as he is much more often in disagreement with my own personal views, than those rare times that he is in agreement with them. However, in a general election, should he get that far (hypothetically), and my main choices are Sen. Chafee and Whitehouse, I could, based on the above concept, then justify a vote for Sen. Chafee. However, my moral obligation is to do my best to see that it doesn't even get to that point! My main disagreement [with Tom] here is my strongly-held belief that by "choosing not to choose" from the choices provided, that one is actually making a choice (one could use the Nader analogy). Your vote does not occur in a vacuum; it occurs in the real world, with real results. If one is going to "throw away a vote," it better be for a very, very good reason(s) that outweighs the good which is inherent in that vote.

That being said, adherence to an ideology or philosophy based on sincere belief or as the result of a logical process, is far preferable to blind obediance to "the Party," right or wrong. When the Party is right, then follow it. When it's wrong, then it's your duty as a citizen and as a member of that party to point that out, in order to give them a chance to consider an alternate point of view and see the error of their ways. If they still won't go along with your ideas, then you should not feel like you should need to remain silent for "the good of the Party" or "for party unity" (any of this sound strangely familiar?). It reminds me of a great Reagan quote, where he was talking about the necessity of Peace through Strength, and countering critics who labeled him as a warmonger: "You and I can have world peace right now. Surrender!"

Posted by: Will at September 21, 2005 1:02 AM

Again, much of what Will said falls in line with my philosophy, too. In short, I'm a pragmatic conservative. I'll fight to the bitter end to get my ideas through, but in the end I will vote for that candidate who comes closest to me on the issues. Sometimes it means holding your nose. (BTW, Will, I wasn't trying to impugn you as being a Laffey Drone or something. I hope you didn't take it that way. Instead, it seems that there are a few who think that anyone who doesn't appear to support Chafee "blindly" is ipso facto "blindly" supporter of Laffey.)

In that light, I suppose one could argue that the GOP Senatorial Committee is doing a sort of preemptive strike using the same mentality. They calculate that Laffey has no chance to to win in the general election, so why waste time? Perhaps they're being "preemptive pragmatists"? Anyway, for the record, you can consider me an uncommitted conservative, leaning Laffey, but wary of where he'll go next. (Guatemala?) ;)

Posted by: Marc at September 21, 2005 7:48 AM

1. Will & Andrew: I did not say that Laffey would run to the left of Chafee. I said he would "run to left" which I meant as to the left of where many of us (or at least I) believed he previously stood.

2. Will: Laffey "what you see is what you get": I couldn't disagree more. Laffey is opposed to oil companies (unless he's making money from them), he's against taxes (unless he's forced to raise them), the list goes on. You may trust him, but I still have several question about his positions.

3. Marc: Never said that you were a Laffey cheerleader. Actually, I hadn't given it a thought....but come to think off it, there is some thing a little sexy about pom-poms......

4. Marc: I disagree. I believe Chafee's seat is important to keeping GOP control. Give me a 10 seat Repbulican majority and then we can talk.

5. Will and Marc: It's not spreading fear in an effort to generate donations. It is rational questioning arising from general election poll numbers. I, too, am a pragmatic conservative which is why I'm voting for Chafee.

6. Tom W: You should vote for Laffey. For people like Tom W who are willing to accept the loss of a Senate seat because he believes things will be better in the long term, although painful in the short term, I agree that Steve Laffey may be the better candidate (depending on where Steve finally comes down on the issues).

And finally--

When I vote, I look at three things: issues, electability and character.

First, does the election of this candidate help or hurt the advancement of my beliefs?

Second, can this candidate get elected?

Third, does this person have the character to represent the office?

Chafee, while I disagree with most of his positions, helps advance my beliefs in a broader way by supporting the majority leader and giving the GOP the majority. While he's pro-abortion, he is supporting John Roberts for the Supreme Court which is important to me.

Second, he's shown that he is electable by winning huge over past Democrat opponents.

Third, while I disagree with Chafee, he is saying and doing what he feels is best for RI even though I'm left shaking my head sometimes.

Laffey does better on my first criteria than Chafee. He is more conservative and would vote for the majority leader. I'm a little concerned about some of his recent comments, but there is little doubt that he is more conservative than Chafee.

Laffey falls far short in the second category. I haven't seen any evidence, either in polls or just talking with everyday people, that Laffey stands a chance in the general election.

Finally, some of Laffey's recent comments have got me questioning Laffey's character. I don't want someone just telling me what I want to hear. Maybe it's not a character issue at all, but just poor communications work, I don't know. If that is the case, Laffey should fix the problem immediately.

Posted by: Anthony at September 21, 2005 1:06 PM

Fair enough. It's a tough thing trying to divine rhetorical motive (and aim!) when not face to face. Anyway, I understand your rationale, and, until further notice (and a change at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball), I don't think Chafee is as crucial to maintaining a Senate majority as you. Like you, I'd love a 60 Senator, filibuster proof majority, but don't think it's possible in the current political climate. Concomitantly, I think Laffey has a better chance than you in the general, but I understand your reservations as I have them too.

As far as the "spreading fear" bit, I meant that the GOP Senate committee is trying to "scare" up more donations (I've gotten the fundraising letters...) Finally, me, poms poms and a skirt are not anyone's idea of "sexy." More like Klinger then Klum, if you get my meaning.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at September 21, 2005 7:47 PM