Friday, November 10, 2006

Cry of the RINO

Let me start off by saying that I'm shamelessly breaking my promise to stop flogging the dead horse that was the 2006 elections. Lest I also forget to mention it, Dictators of the World has also been updated. That said, let's get to it.

Today's Providence Journal (registration required) has a lengthy article interviewing outgoing RINO Senator Lincoln Chafee. What gems of wisdom does he have to share with the people of Rhode Island regarding his loss to Sheldon Whitehouse?

To start with, Chafee blames "the right wing" of the Republican party for his loss. Sorry, Linc - I don't buy that. When someone's at the far left wing of the party, as you are, the middle looks like the far right. You played your cards right for being a Republican in Rhode Island but lest we forget, the electorate here leans fairly left of center. You ran as a Republican largely because you were appointed to the seat by a Republican governor who passed on the position like a Chafee family heirloom, and also because you had no connections to the state's powerful Democratic party machinery, where frankly, your ideological leanings wouldn't have caused so much as a ripple.

Frankly, Linc, I have no idea how Sheldon Whitehouse guessed that voters here are stupid enough to link you to the right wing of anything, or why you let him get away with it. After all, you could stop pretending to be a Republican the second you gained the votes of actual conservative Republicans by default after beating Steve Laffey in the primaries. Running as a Democrat who just happens to be related to a Chafee that the people of Rhode Island really liked was your best strategy, and you blew it.

Ron from Fall River raised an interesting point with me, saying that Chafee would have done well to follow the example of Senator Joe "Joe-mentum!" Lieberman and broken the party bonds by running as an independent. I completely concur. Unlike Lieberman, a solid Democrat who broke party ranks on exactly one issue, Chafee was at odds with Republicans on nearly everything under the sun - an understandable consequence of being a RINO. Yet those left-of-center politics, combined with his name recognition could have offset Sheldon Whitehouse's greatest, or rather only, campaign theme: "Lincoln Chafee's a Republican (boo! hiss!) and I'm not (hooray!)."

You tried to minimize your political risks by being a closet Democrat, Linc. I don't blame you there. After all, how the hell is a real conservative going to win in a state as blue as Rhode Island? But then Linc goes on to blame Steve Laffey of all people for his eventual choke job against Whitehouse, blasting Laffey for having "chose for his own self gratification to oppose a sitting Republican".

Yeah, the gall of that Laffey. Didn't he know this seat belongs to the Chafee family? Where did he get off, exactly, by running as an actual Republican? There's been a Chafee in the Senate for a long time, so it stands to reason, perhaps, that Linc hasn't exactly paid attention to his own party in a while. That's understandable. It explains why he's so dumbfounded at why Laffey chose to run, and why he almost beat Chafee in the primaries. I'll spell it out for you, Senator:

We like you better than Sheldon Whitehouse, but given a choice, Republican voters prefer actual Republican candidates.

Got that? Similarly, in a heavily Democratic state, the voters preferred bonafide Democrats who talk the Democrat talk and walk the Democrat walk to a Republican, no matter how skilled he is at imitating a Democrat. You got lucky once, but this time, Sheldon Whitehouse outflanked your left wing. Don Carcieri shows that the Governor's office is an exception (to offset the state legislature), but you were the rule this time around.

At the end of the interview, Chafee hints that he may leave the party, but not before describing himself as a "loyal Republican". I don't know how to put this nicely, Linc, but if that's loyalty, may God save us from treachery. Steve Laffey may have lost, but we didn't have to swallow our tongues when we voted for him.

Frankly, I like Lincoln Chafee. He seems like a decent man, and I'm sure I'll like him much more now that I don't have to admit he's my Senator. But if the "change" theme of the election rings true, it should also signal a change in the state party machinery. We don't have to vote for Chafee anymore just because we think he'll win - he's history. We have the freedom to start over in the opposition, and play a little offense for a change.

If anyone has Steve Laffey's number, I hope someone tells him to put any plans for 2008 on hold, because we'd love to see him run against Jack "The Invisible Man" Reed.


Lefty said...

While I understand that Chafee might be the only Republican in Rhode Island who considers him a Republican I think you're a bit hard on the defeated Senator here.

First off, why did Lincoln Chafee lose?

Having a tough Primary fight with Laffey certainly didn't help. In a Primary challenge you have to appeal to your party's base, something the liberal Chafee has trouble doing. Chafee won not because he appealed to all Republicans but because the people who voted in the primary (a group that consisted of Republicans, Democrats and Independents)felt Laffey couldn't defeat Sheldon Whitehouse in the general election. IF Chafee had been unopposed in the primary he could have spent less money and instead of courting the Republican vote could have concentrated on a 'centrist' message. I think Chafee makes a good point when he says that Laffey could have run for a number of other seats. Why oppose Chafey when there are other positions with no Republicans running at all?

Certainly the anti-Republican sentiment is a factor in Chafee's loss, he got 171,363 votes(46%)in a state where less than 70,000 people are registered as Republican. If Chafee doesn't appeal to Democrats and Independents he doesn't win - period. Should Chafee have switched parties or (as I suggested) run as an independent? I think you can make a good argument for it, but certainly there are people who voted for Whitehouse not because they liked him better but simply because it would shift the majority to the Democrats in the next congress.

I never considered it before the election but yes, even Question One, for the Warwick Casino hurt Chafee. Because there was a huge "get out the vote" by organizations in favor of and against the casino Rhode Island enjoyed a large voter turnout, not good for a man Running Republican in liberal state. How many more votes did each candidate get because of higher voter turnout? Chances are the majority went to Whitehouse.

With Chafee losing by only 26,000 votes I think if you remove any two of these issues Chafee beats Whitehouse.

Lincoln Chafee has a good record, strong recognition and is well liked in Rhode Island. Sounds like a man who should be in politics! So what's in Chafee's future?
Six years is a long time to wait to challenge Sheldon Whitehouse to get your old job back, but in 2008 Chafee could challenge Senator Jack Reed, which would be tough or U.S. Reps. Kennedy and Langevin, which could be easier. With no incumbent to run against a run for Governor in 2010 might be more enticing and hold more prestige. Then again you could always suggest Chafee run for Mayor of Fall River!

Roger Williams said...

Lefty raised a good point (in meatspace, not on this blog) about Chafee's name recognition being good enough to challenge Patches Kennedy in two years (he'll have to move to the district, but that's no problem). Would he accept the "demotion"?