November 30, 2006

Bleeding the (Blue)blood out of the New England GOP

Marc Comtois

First, the New York Times focuses the soft-filter lense on the now dwindling ranks of GOP moderates in New England and :

It was a species as endemic to New England as craggy seascapes and creamy clam chowder: the moderate Yankee Republican.

Dignified in demeanor, independent in ideology and frequently blue in blood, they were politicians in the mold of Roosevelt and Rockefeller: socially tolerant, environmentally enthusiastic, people who liked government to keep its wallet close to its vest and its hands out of social issues like abortion and, in recent years, same-sex marriage...

Then they let the moderates explain that they're the real conservatives:
Walter Peterson, a former New Hampshire governor and lifelong Republican, this year became the co-chairman of Republicans for John Lynch, the incumbent Democratic governor.

“What the people want is basically to feel like the candidates of a political party are working for the people, not just following some niche issues,” Mr. Peterson said. “The old traditional Republican Party was conservative on small government, efficient government; believed in supporting people to give them a chance at life but not having people on the dole; wanted a balanced budget; and on social issues they were moderate, tolerant, live and let live. They didn’t dislike somebody from other religious viewpoints.”

He continued, “That was the old-fashioned conservative, but the word conservative today has been bastardized.”

I'm afraid that Mr. Peterson is the one "bastardizing" the meaning of the word. His apparent complaint that today's conservatives "dislike [people] from other religious viewpoints” stands out as the primary difference in his functional description of "what it means to be a Republican" and that of most contemporary conservatives. Together with the linkage of "live and let live" with "moderate" and "tolerant"--such a neat little trick--the comment reveals that the real axe he and other moderates have to grind is that they look down their blue-veined noses at people who actually have a religious viewpoint. In short, live and let live unless you're a right wing, religious nut. Very tolerant of them.

As a practical, pragmatic and political matter, the various New England GOPs need to have a much bigger tent than their counterparts in, say, the south. Yet, they also have to recognize that the conservatives who are (seemingly) at the lower, rank-and-file level of the party are tired of being ignored. We're smart enough to realize that compromises have to be made. Maybe it's time that the bluebloods realize that, too.

Finally, the Times offers Senator Chafee as Exhibit "A":

I’m caught between the state party, which I’m very comfortable in, and the national party, which I’m not,” said Mr. Chafee, adding that he was considering the merits of “sticking it out and hoping the pendulum swings back.”
Sheesh, Senator. "Sticking it out"? Could he be any more complacent? If he really wants to hold elective office again, he has to be proactive, seize the bull by the horns and start working now. A good place to start would be to put his time and money where his rhetoric is and help build the RI GOP. Don't start waiting. Start doing. (And remember to be tolerant and open-minded, K?)

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As long as the national GOP's entire legislative decisionmaking apparatus remains based in the South, this trend will continue. It started when Chafee's father was bumped from the Senate leadership after the '94 revolution. When you marginalize the Northeast (as Republicans like to argue the Dems did in the South), you should now why you're losing seats here.
Will we see Club for Growth and other hardcore conservative groups try to purge Snowe and Collins, even with the GOP having lost control of the Senate?

Posted by: Rhody at November 30, 2006 11:46 AM

* should now wonder why you're losing seats here.

We need a post editing function badly!

Posted by: Rhody at November 30, 2006 11:47 AM

Both John and Lincoln Chafee have given far to build the Rhode Island Republican Party in this state than most of the people making comments.

When Republicans couldn't be found to run against popular Democrats like Joe Garrahy, John Chafee recruited Republicans and gave them jobs afterwards. Lincoln Chafee used to recruit and campaign for local GOP official. Together, both Senator Chafees raised millions of dollars over the years for Rhode Island Republicans.

How ironic is it that Lincoln Chafee is called on to provide "time and money" to the GOP?

From what I can tell, most of the criticism comes from non-RI natives who moved into the state recently and have little real understanding of the state and people under the age of 35 who have no instituional political knowledge.

Posted by: Anthony at November 30, 2006 3:06 PM

>>Will we see Club for Growth and other hardcore conservative groups try to purge Snowe and Collins, even with the GOP having lost control of the Senate?

I hope so!

>>From what I can tell, most of the criticism comes from non-RI natives who moved into the state recently and have little real understanding of the state ...

And may they never go native!

Posted by: Tom W at November 30, 2006 4:12 PM

Anthony, Aahhh, so it finally comes...

Because I'm not a "native", I just don't understand the Rhode Island way, aye? (The rest is false, btw. I'm over 35 and been here over a decade). Think you've got it backwards. Because I'm not a native, I understand that there are other ways than the Rhode Island way.

I don't think I said he hasn't done party building in the past, though I suppose that could be inferred. Sorry. But this wasn't a request for his help, just some advice that if he wants to help himself, he needs to work to make the pendulum swing, not wait for it to do it on its own.

So, let me clarify: If the Senator really wants political power again, he shouldn't approach it so passively and should start at the grassroots. If he doesn't want to, oh well, but don't complain if all of the "radical right wingers" make leadership gains within the RI GOP. If he wants a RI GOP that is reflective of his definition of being a Republican, taking a wait and see approach won't work.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at November 30, 2006 4:57 PM

So, Anthony, because I'm not old and I wasn't brought up drinking the Rhode Island grape juice, I'm not qualified to speak on how F-ed up your political system is in this state?

I would say, having lived in quite a few places, that I would be exactly the kind of 'new eyes' you would WANT looking at your functionally retarded Republican Party in this state.

Posted by: Greg at November 30, 2006 5:50 PM

I am a dottering old RIer, and I KNOW I'm not qualified. But BTW, David Brooks predicted 3 weeks before the election that Republican moderates were going to get thumped. That's when I came to the conclusion that Chafee was not going to make it.

Could he make a return? Possibly, but he burned a few bridges. He certainly never reached out to conservatives like me. It might have helped him, but, alas, it was not to be, for him or his ilk. C'est dommage.

Posted by: Chuck at November 30, 2006 7:08 PM

I really didn't know whether you were a native or not, how old you are, how long you've been in RI, etc. Some of the comments just indicated a lack of institutional knowledge, so I made an assumption, but if the shoe fits....

Greg, you're entitled to believe whatever you want, but at the end of the day it comes down to having the knowledge to win races and influence Rhode Islanders. If you don't understand the people who are you're trying to influence, you're going to be a failure regardless of whether your position is correct or incorrect.

That's true in life and business, but especially politics.

HINT: phrases like "brought up drinking the Rhode Island grape juice" won't convince Rhode Island voters to support your position.

Posted by: Anthony at November 30, 2006 7:18 PM

By the way, I would LOVE to see conservatives make gains in Rhode Island.

My fear is that conservatives who don't understand Rhode Island will inadvertantly cause more harm than good by taking an approach that alienates rather than attracts the average Rhode Island voter. NOTE: See Greg's comment.

Posted by: Anthony at November 30, 2006 7:22 PM

Why is it, Anthony, that you think Rhode Islanders are peculiar in their being put off by insults? That's a pretty standard quality among human beings.

Given the state of Rhode Island's government and, especially, its minority party, the evidence is pretty strong, I'd say, that the things that outsiders "don't understand" about Rhode Island are precisely the things that need changing.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 30, 2006 7:42 PM

As lifelong Rhode Islander, who has yet to flee to a better life elsewhere, all I know is this: what we've been doing isn't working. Therefore, I would like us to try something new. Trying something "new" would start by having a Republican Party that is responsive, and not overtly repulsed by its grassroots, and which isn't afraid to stand up for commonsense principles that are distinct from those of Rhode Island's corrupt majority party.

If people believe you're looking out for them, and that you aren't on the take, they'll probably consider voting for you. I'm not under the illusion that we're living in Mississippi, but a Republican can run as a conservative without coming off as a weirdo or a bumpkin. What it would take first of all is a local Republican Party that doesn't seem openly hostile to anyone to the right of the Chafees, which is nearly the entire party. People are thirsting for an alternative to the status quo, yet we really don't even try to give them one. As Ronald Reagan once said, "The 'status quo' is latin for the mess we're in."

As I've said before, our state party's "message" comes across as "we're just like the Democrats, but we can't give you a job." We just need to be more substantial and have real plans that we communicate well. Our party claimed to have a platform this year? Has anyone seen it, or heard of it? Probably not. We certainly don't make a lot of effort to attract conservatives or otherwise solid Republicans, to run as candidates for pretty much anything. What you get from the RIGOP is basically "you're on your own -- good luck." If anything, we almost go out of our way to make sure that they don't get involved at any level.

Posted by: Will at November 30, 2006 9:06 PM

I didn't say Rhode Islanders were unique in not wanting to be insulted. I was suggesting taking the advice of the people insulting Rhode Islanders might not be the best people to follow when trying to win the support of Rhode Islanders.

The failure of conservatives to get elected in RI is not due to the RI Republican Party. The reality is that the state GOP has very little power to elect anyone outside of the races where national money comes into play--Governor and up until recently, the Senate. By the way, I'd be that it's not just conservative candidates who feel they haven't been supported by the party. My guess is there are plenty of moderates who feel that way too. An organization can't spend what it doesn't have, well not unless it's the DNC.

I think I might have mentioned it in a previous post, but you don't get respect from the party "elite" by demanding it, you earn it. You earn it by getting people elected. So the question becomes how you get people elected.

I think most RI Republicans are somewhat conservative. The problem is that few of the Republicans who have been elected in RI are conservatives.

There are some realities to be dealt with here that don't apply in other states. Unlike most states, Rhode Island gets back more in tax dollars than it pays. Nearly every Rhode Islander has a friend or family member who works for the state. The state is the largest employer in RI. Many Rhode Islanders have lived in the same community for generations and feel a strong tie to their city or town, or even their neighborhood.

Now you can criticize this situation and complain how it's not that way in other states, but it's the reality ir RI and to win, you have to deal with reality.

This doesn't mean abandoning conservative principles. It means focusing on those principles that can be broadly supported.

You're right that there needs to be a platform and that the platform needs to be more than "we're just like the Democrats but we can't give you jobs" (to be honest I don't think that was ever the platform---it was more like "we're not the good ol' boys club like the Democrats, so if you're a woman or a reformer, we're glad to have you no matter what your political beliefs")

In RI, a platform needs to be carefully tailored to appeal to Republican-leaning and independent voters. That means that the Republican platform will not be the same as the Republican plaform in Virgina.

What do these voters care about? They care about thngs like their kids' safety and education.

You can talk all you want about tax cuts, social and fiscal conservatism but remember you're talking to people in a state that gets more money back from the federal government than it puts in and voters who have friends and relatives who work as state employees, teachers, etc.

The reason voters in Rhode Island vote Democrat is the same reason that voters in Kansas vote Republican--they perceive it to be in their best interest. Conservatives need to convince RI voters it's in their best interest to vote Republican.

Posted by: Anthony at November 30, 2006 9:44 PM

Which is kind of difficult with party "moderates" publicly warning about the right-wing extremists in their midst and making news for tax evasion. As far as I'm concerned, in order for conservatives to "convince RI voters it's in their best interest to vote Republican," they have to convince them that Republicans are conservative.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 30, 2006 10:07 PM

No, conservatives need to convince voters that they are the ones best able to solve the problems voters are actually concerned about.

I bet that the moderates warning about "right-wing extremists" are far more concerned about conservatives alienating what little support exists for Republican candidates through counterproductive tactics and incendiary words, not because of what conservatives believe.

Avedisian (a moderate) and Carcieri (a conservative) always got along better than Laffey (a conservative) and Carcieri--and I don't think Avedisian was referring to Carcieri when he made his comment. Carcieri, while a conservative, got elected by appealing to independents and I don't think Avedisian would have any worries about being associated with Carcieri.

The voter is the customer. To sell to a customer, you need to provide the customer with what he wants, not tell him to buy what you think he should want.

Posted by: Anthony at December 1, 2006 2:16 AM

Carcieri has certainly sold himself to voters. (I don't mean that in a crass way.) He has just as certainly not sold his party to voters. Say what you will about Laffey, he increased Republican voter rolls in Cranston.

Most conservatives, including the writers of Anchor Rising, are somewhere between the two in work-with-moderates-ness, and yet, I've little doubt that we are included in Chafee's vision of right-wing extremists.

Where government and politics differ from retail is that true leaders in the former will sometimes (in this state, often) understand that the "customers" should want something other than what they appear to want. I believe that people understand that instinctively and will vote for a leader even if they would not buy from a comparable salesman.

Where government and politics do not differ from retail is that customers who are reasonably satisfied, or even used to, their own brand will not switch unless another brand offers some persuasive degree of differentiation.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 1, 2006 6:12 AM

Not to derail the primary discussion here, but doesn't Mayor Avedisian describe himself as a liberal?

Posted by: Andrew at December 1, 2006 8:52 AM

A couple of points-

1. Since 2002, I have seen more new people get actively involved with Republican politics because of Don Carcieri than Steve Laffey. Laffey has done a good job of motivating pre-existing conservatives, but I've only seen a few new faces as a result.

2. I also can't buy the "Laffey increased Repbulican voter registration" as easily as I did before this year's primary. As you know the unions worked hard to register their Cranston members are Republicans to vote AGAINST Laffey in the city primary. Laffey's lopsided mayoral win formed the basis of a general consensus that most of the newly registered Republicans were the result of Laffey's effort, not the union effort or simply the result of independent voters who wanted to vote in a highly publicized primary. Laffey's performance (or lack thereof) in Cranston during the Senate Republican primary calls this premise into heavy questioning.

It appears to me that what Laffey was able to build in Cranston was not a foundation, but rather a sand castle that was washed away with the very next tide.

Posted by: Anthony at December 1, 2006 9:22 AM

Anthony, two things...

You wrote:

Many Rhode Islanders have lived in the same community for generations and feel a strong tie to their city or town, or even their neighborhood.

I agree completely, which is why I wrote about the necessity for RI Repubs to get involved in their communities so that they get to know--and be known by--people in their neighborhoods. I may be from away and may not have the "institutional knowledge" that you do, but I do understand the necessity of forging local and personal relationships before deciding to seek political office. You can't just come out of the blue and run. You need a base and you need to understand them.

Avedisian (a moderate) and Carcieri (a conservative) always got along better than Laffey (a conservative) and Carcieri--and I don't think Avedisian was referring to Carcieri when he made his comment. Carcieri, while a conservative, got elected by appealing to independents and I don't think Avedisian would have any worries about being associated with Carcieri.

Me neither, but, and I'll say it again, the moderate/liberal high profile RI GOP leaders keep using "right wing" (ie; conservative) as a proxy for "Laffey and his minions". They may be able to differentiate it in their minds, but it doesn't come across that way. The resulting impression is that conservatives aren't welcome to the table.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at December 1, 2006 1:59 PM

Don Carcieri is a conservative. But he hasn't gone around saying, what we need in this state is conservatism. Instead, he has talked about what is wrong with how the state is run and what needs to be done to fix it. MUCH OF WHICH IS BASED IN CONSERVATIVE VALUES.

Because so many voters in Rhode Island have accepted the myth that conservatism is not good, there is an education curve required.

Yes, the RIGOP needs to distinguish itself more starkly from the Dems. But we need to consider the market. It's not going to work to say, we're different because we espouse a conservative approach to governing. As the Gov has done for the last four years, we need to talk specifically - this is the problem, this is the required reform, we are the party who will bring it.

Posted by: SusanD at December 1, 2006 10:48 PM

I don't know that anybody is suggesting that we approach voters with the statement "elect us, we're conservative." Indeed, the C-word seems most often to be introduced to discussion by RI Republican moderates seeking to alienate a growing segment of their party.

When I said that conservatives have "to convince [voters] that Republicans are conservative," I thought it obvious that one would do so through explanations of policies and principles, not the leveraging of labels. Indeed, that's why our task is made more difficult by the moderates' warnings.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 2, 2006 9:01 AM

The Rhode Island Republican party needs to improve is relations with its "grass roots".Local Republican city,ward,and town committees need to be made stronger.
The Rhode Island Republican establishment needs to treat all Republicans with respect and not make promises or allude to things they can't deliver on, disappointing the Republican grass roots.The Rhode Island Republican party "leadership" needs to show that the rank and file are important.
I want Patricia Morgan replaced as state GOP chair.Before the Rhode Island Republican party worries about what Rhode Islanders think,they need to find out why so many ACTIVE Republicans are turned off by the current GOP state leadership before the state as a whole.
We need to come together as Republicans more than we do now.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at December 2, 2006 12:29 PM

Anthony has a point that RI voters are really more conservative than we Republicans tend to give them credit for. The trick is appealing to that Conservatism. I do think Laffey erred in over-reaching on the populist approach. It wasn't a bad strategy, but it wasn't a winning one, particularly when he didn't do a good enough job making himself more personable.

But generally, RI's will and have voted for conservatives. They voted solidly for Reagan, and they voted for Carcieri - even in a year where Republicans lost 10 governorships nationwide.

I agree Avedesian is a liberal by the way, and he will meet with the eventual liberal Republican conclusion because he will have a difficult time rallying that innate RI conservatism.

I think the next move for RI Repubs is to leverage that innate conservative instinct in RI's - and avoid corruption at all costs - even the hint of it.

Posted by: Chuck at December 2, 2006 5:00 PM

"I think the next move for RI Repubs is to leverage that innate conservative instinct in RI's - and avoid corruption at all costs - even the hint of it."

Does this mean that the return of Coach Traficante to the Republican fold is out of the question ...?

Posted by: SusanD at December 2, 2006 8:38 PM

Afraid so

Posted by: Chuck at December 3, 2006 12:43 PM

QlQLFiQ Valium Ambien

Posted by: Valium at May 6, 2010 2:56 PM
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