Republicans to Concede RI if Chaffey Loses Primary

Politics, they say, makes strange bedfellows. A classic case-in-point: The Republican Party is sparing no expense to help Lincoln Chafee, its least reliable Senator, get re-nominated. Further, the party has announced that it won’t even bother trying to retain the Rhode Island seat if the more conservative Stephen Laffey wins the primary.

In an extraordinary pre-emptive announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will concede Rhode Island to the Democrats should Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, defeat Mr. Chafee in the primary. Citing poll data, Republican leaders said they saw no way someone as conservative as Mr. Laffey could win in a state as Democratic as this; as it is, they are increasingly worried about Mr. Chafee’s hopes in a general election.

The result has been the striking sight of the national Republican Party, dominated by conservatives, using resources to save the seat of a Republican who said he voted against Mr. Bush in 2004. He chose instead to write in the name of the first President Bush.

Mr. Chafee has opposed many centerpiece Republican policies, from the war in Iraq to tax cuts to most restrictions on abortion. This week, he helped force a delay on the confirmation of John R. Bolton as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

For all that, Republicans said they expected to spend more than $1.2 million on advertisements attacking Mr. Laffey, saturating the television stations of this state, the nation’s smallest. One advertisement lifts a line Republicans have used in countless attacks against Democrats, mocking the mayor as “tax-and-spend Steve Laffey.”

This is quite bizarre to those who think politics is mostly about ideological purity but perfectly reasonable to those who understand that pragmatism often reigns supreme.

Laffey would, without question, be preferable to Chafee in every way except one: He can’t win.

As noted here before, Chafee, annoying though he may be, is the most conservative Republican the party can possibly get in Rhode Island and still have a chance to win the seat. While Chafey votes like a Democrat most of the time, he at least can be counted on to vote for a Republican as Majority Leader and thus make it more likely that the party can retain its majority, including the chairmanships of the committees.

To the Club for Growth types, who prefer to lose rather than compromise, let me ask you this: Did you like Jim Jeffords better as a Republican who voted like a Democrat or as an Independent who voted with the Democrats?

via Taegan Goddard

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I am always suspicious of a NYT article, especially when it deals with the GOP. What I suspect is more accurate is if Laffey wins, then the party is going to re-prioritize its list of where it will invest in ’06 campaigns.

    I doubt the GOP as a party is going to spend much in the Texas senate race. Not because they don’t want the seat, but because the seat is not in danger. Likewise, I suspect the GOP as a party won’t spend much in the California senate race. Not because they think Feinstein is a great senator, but simple reality of winning.

    I suspect that most in the GOP would be happy to trade Chaffee for Laffey, but that just doesn’t exist as a legitimate offer.

    Ironically, the GOP decision is likely to help Laffey. If he has any chance it would be to run as an outsider and you can’t get to be much more of an outsider than the party disowning you.

  2. James Joyner says:

    John: That’s actually how I read the NYT article.

  3. Interesting indeed. But this points out a common distinction between party leaders and party activists.

    Party leaders want power, and as long as Chaffee (or Lieberman on the other side) will vote with the party on organizing the chamber, that’s what matters most to them.

    But for party activists, it often is about ideology.

    Among the activists, I suspect there are many Republicans whose ranking would be something like:

    1. Republican who votes like Republican
    2. Non-Republican who votes like non-Republican
    3. Republican who votes like non-Republican

    Among the leadership, clearly those last two are reversed.

    And I suspect that there are many Democrats with a similar ranking who would have taken the Lamont leap regardless of whether they thought it would lead to the other party capturing the seat.

    It’s about party identity and discipline. And I see nothing at all surprising or inherently bad about that, except that our system restricts us to only two such parties.

    I still prefer choices to echoes. I just want more choices.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I’m sure that’s right. And there’s something to be said for preferring a Lieberman-type Democrat to a Chafee-type Republican. The problem, though, is that if the Democrat votes against you in the most crucial vote of the session–that of determining the leadership structure of the body–all the other votes may not matter.

    Now, if the Republicans are going to be in the minority–or a solid majority–regardless of the outcome of that race, then the considerations might be reversed. But with every race potentially decisive, the GOP can’t afford to give away a chance at winning RI.

  5. DL says:

    When you win because you are putting forth the enemy’s principles – you have become the enemy. How long will we support corrupt and evil GOP candidates before we find that good has become evil.

    If winning isn’t about noble purpose it has no value!

    Compromise is the selling of truth and that which is good for victory -what a hollow victory that is.

    I assume that this pragmatism makes it okay to cheat on a test to get a good grade or sneak over someone’s border and steal an ID to get better work or even to lie about your intentions when you enroll in a Florida flight school as loing as you win?

    COmpromize and you have adopted the values of the enemy! You have moved from being Jekyll(good) to Hyde (bad) without taking the serum.

  6. Tom Blumer says:

    So if Laffey beats Chafee and loses to Whitehouse, the NRSC gets the “satisfaction” of saying “see, we told you so” instead of fighting like heck for a guy who has actually accomplished something.

    Bleep them.

  7. Bocksedin says:

    Given Chafee’s voting record, I wouldn’t count on him voting with the Republicans in a leadership race unless his vote didn’t matter. If it was 50/50 – I think he would pull a Jeffords and go “independent” but vote with the Democrats. For what its worth, if he loses he will no longer provide “bi-partisan” cover for media when he sides with the Democrats.