Two conservative favorites who have been very influential in shaping my political identity, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt, had a vigorous difference of opinion regarding Lincoln Chafee’s GOP Senate renomination over challenger Steve Laffey.
Hugh believes it is in the GOP’s best interest to have Chafee defeated by his Democratic rival. Hugh notes,
Lincoln Chafee did not vote for the invasion of Iraq, for the re-election of President Bush, or for the confirmation of Justice Alito. He has blocked years of efforts to attend to the rights of property owners burdened by his ill-informed enthusiasms for non-endangered species classified as “endangered” as a means of extending federal control of land use decisions. Chafee sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from which post he has repeatedly harassed –and in the case of Ambassador Bolton– obstructed the foreign policy of the United States.
A strong believer in the Primaries, Michael Medved finds it acceptable to vote for a Republican challenger against a Republican incumbent; but beyond that, he is a strict believer that “you do not win by losing”; that you vote for the person whom you agree with MORE. Meaning, that just because a man like Chafee only votes with the Republicans about 40-50% of the time, that is no reason to vote him out of office to be replaced by a Democrat who will vote with Republicans 0% to under 30% of the time. Medved believes that the Republicans are the more mature party; the one that understands the two-party system better than Democrats. That a man like Joe Lieberman, a former vice presidential candidate for the Democrats, is thrown out to the curb by his party, even though he votes 80% of the time with the Democrats. I recall Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean boasting about how there is no diversity of thought in the Republican Party and how, in contrast, the Democrats welcome debate within their ranks. If that were true, why the ostracizing of Joe Lieberman? Like Zell Miller, it’s because the Democratic Party has left them; not the other way around. It is becoming the party of Michael Moore and Moveon.org.
Why, Hugh, would you ever advise people to vote for a candidate with whom they disagree on EVERYTHING? It’s true that Chafee is wrong on big issues (tax cuts, the war, Bush-v-Kerry, Alito) but what are the issues on which he’s wrong but the Democrat, Whitehouse, is right? There are good reasons that the White House, and Steve Laffey himself, now support Chafee: keeping GOP control of the Senate is essential for the President to enjoy any success at all in the remainder of his second term, especially with the real possibility that the Dems will take the House. Supporting Laffey in the primary was an honorable if arguable position, but supporting the Democrat in the general is not.
I know there’s an argument that the party is better off without flakes like the often missing Linc, but defeating him in the general isn’t just a matter of “getting rid of him” — it’s a matter of sending a new liberal Democrat to Capitol Hill to re-enforce Harry Reid, Teddy the K, Pat Leahy, and the boys. The desire for “Party Purity” (let’s purge all these disgusting moderates and RINO’s!) is a self-destructive, illogical inclination.
During the frustrations back in April among conservatives over the inability for GOP leadership to get anything done with the illegal immigration and border security issue, many conservatives angrily threatened to “sit on their hands” in November and “teach the Republican Party a lesson”. I definitely do think that this is the wrong answer, and the least mature response to political disillusionment. Hugh Hewitt calls these “death wish Republicans”.
Hugh, you’ve made the case as well as anyone: politics is about supporting people with whom you agree most, not people with whom you agree perfectly. A pure, ideologically unpolluted party is a dead party — one that could never, ever build a majority in this complex and divided country. We need Republicans like Arnold, like Spector, like Clifford Case (former Senator from New Jersey and another GOP victim of a rightist purge, whose seat has been held by Democrats ever since.) Isn’t it obvious that you win elections by drawing people to your cause even if they don’t agree with you completely, rather than pushing people away because they don’t agree with you completely?
Reagan undestood this better than anyone. He once said, “if you agree with me 70% of the time, that doesn’t make you my enemy.”Okay, Lincoln Chafee only agrees 40% of the time (he has a lifetime American Conservative Union voting record of 37% — pathetic, admittedly, but still better than any sitting Democrat). In any event, when Reagan had a chance to select running mates he reached to his left, both times– naming the liberal GOP Senator Richard Schweiker as his VP designate in 1976 (when he failed to win the nomination), and the moderate George Herbert Walker Bush as his Veep in 1980. If the greatest conservative in recent history understood the idea that reaching out is better than driving out, we should learn from his example.
In a reply to Michael Medved, Hugh disagrees that what he is doing is siding with party purists and death wish Republicans.
Most of my most recent book Painting the Map Red is an extended argument against party purity and a strong defense of the need for majoritarian parties to indeed be very big tents. But in a chapter titled “Not the Party of Lincoln (Chafee)” I explained at length why Rhode Island’s “Republican” is not really a Republican at all, and why his defeat is the exception to my rule that, in this time of war, every Republican Congressional candidate is a better candidate than every Democratic candidate. That doesn’t mean voting for doomed GOPers when, for example, Joe Lieberman can beat back the Lamontites with Republican support. But it does mean that every vote for any Congressional Democrat is a vote against victory and a vote for vulnerability.
Unfortunately, a vote for Lincoln Chafee is also a vote against victory and a vote for vulnerability.
I strongly supported the re-election of Arlen Specter two years ago, and there is no other Republican in the Senate who is not to be preferred over their Democratic opponent.
But Lincoln Chafee is simply not a Republican at any moment when he needs to be.
He voted against authorizing the invasion of Iraq. He voted against the confirmation of Justice Alito. He even refused to vote for the re-election of President Bush.
Senator Specter and all the other Republican “moderates” or “mavericks” got at least two of these three right. Even very big tents need an inside and an outside, or they aren’t tents at all, just meaningless labels. By any reasonable standard, Chafee left the tent a long time ago.
Hugh’s rejection of Chafee is also a tactical decision, as he, like many analysts, don’t feel that the Senate is in any danger of losing Republican majority.
if there was a 51-49 or even a 50-50 split, the Senate would in effect be governed by Lincoln Chafee, and his ever contingent support for the GOP’s goals and perhaps even their majority status. Jim Jeffords proved that closely divided senates are governed by the most erratic person in the majority. Chafee’s demands –which would not be refused by his chairmanship-hungry colleagues– would lead to the most ruinous of situations, the appearance of majority without the ability to produce any results. His views on immigration, judges etc would be greatly magnified if he holds the key to the majority’s continued status, with absolutely awful consequences to the 2008 campaign.
Finally, Senator Chafee is accumulating seniority. If he wins re-election, this relatively young man will eventually rise to the chairmanship of Foreign Affairs and/or Environment & Public Works.
If Senator Chafee comes to the chairmanship of Foreign Affairs, I see nothing but disasters for the adminstration of the national security as a consequence. The Senate’s Committees do indeed matter, and in more than rhetorical ways. Senator Chafee with a microphone and the power to compel witnesses to appear and reports to be written would be as ruinous to the coherent defense of American foreign policy as Joe Biden’s frequent appearances behind podiums have been to the Democrats’ efforts to retool their image as serious on security.
The bottom line is that the parties have divided over seriousness and action v. silliness and obstruction in the two areas most important to the future of the country: national security and judicial nominees. Senator Chafee is not serious on either issue, and his lapses into silliness are not occasional, they are routine. A political party has to have a core of beliefs, from which great departures can be accomodated and even celebrated, but to which at least some modest allegiance is required. From Senator Chafee all the GOP has ever gotten is an organizing vote. The damage he does is not worth that bargain.
Even though at this point, I would agree with Hugh, lest you think I am giving him the last word, please take the time to listen to Michael Medved’s radio program on the primary results. You will learn more than just about the Primaries. One of the best features of Medved’s show, is that he often takes on callers who disagree with him; and in this case, it’s mostly fellow Republicans; a few of whom I remember offering good challenges to him. I think Medved is brilliant (so too, Hugh Hewitt).
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.