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October 1, 2007

I Told You Lincoln Chafee Wasn’t a Republican


Lincoln Chafee, the man who less than a year ago served as the Republican Senator from Rhode Island, is apparently no longer a Republican today. That’s right, he recently dropped his affiliation with the party to become an independent. “It’s not my party anymore,” he says.


“Anymore?” When exactly was it ever your party?


It is extremely tempting to point at Chafee’s official change of affiliation and remind President Bush, Karl Rove and the rest of the Republican establishment just how wrong they were. You see, although they all knew how liberal Chafee was, they poured money, effort and endorsements into his 2006 primary election against a true conservative, Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.


Chafee won the primary, but lost the general election to the Democrats anyway. After his November loss, conservative voices aimed a collective “I told you so” at the Republican establishment that betrayed principle for supposed electability. And now, Chafee’s not even a registered Republican. So here comes “I told you so,” Part 2.


Chafee supports abortion. He supports gay marriage. He opposes tax cuts and stood on the wrong side of the estate tax. He voted against the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and of John Bolton to the United Nations ambassadorship. And he was the only Republican to vote against the invasion of Iraq.


Laffey, on the other hand, was a true conservative on all major issues, and had the populist appeal that would help him win a liberal state like Rhode Island.


But the Republican establishment did not agree. Senator Elizabeth Dole’s National Republican Senatorial Committee wasted more than $1 million trashing Laffey and boosting Chafee. The Republican National Committee pumped enormous resources into the 72-hour get-out-the-vote effort for the primary, an asset that is almost exclusively deployed for general elections. And they appealed to independents just as much as Republicans, knowing that the Republican constituency by itself would give Chafee the boot.


The White House sent its only individual with net positive favorability ratings – Laura Bush – to campaign for Chafee in Rhode Island. Two years earlier, “Republican” Senator Chafee had refused to vote for her husband, President Bush, when a majority of the country did.


Just thinking what these resources could have done elsewhere in the fall of 2006 is truly saddening and revealing. Could that money and effort have changed the results in Montana, where Republicans could have retained their seat had only 1,500 voters cast their ballots differently, or Virginia, where George Allen, one of the Senate’s greatest Republicans, could have survived if less than 0.2 percent of voters were better exposed to his message?


Yes, that is entirely possible, although we will never know for sure. What we do know for sure is that the Republican establishment ravaged the name of a great Rhode Island Republican in order to save a liberal in a Republican outfit, only to have him lose substantially in the general election anyway.


“It felt good” to disaffiliate from the GOP, said Chafee recently, now that he no longer has to worry about feigning Republicanism in order to get the establishment’s support. “I want my affiliation to accurately reflect my status,” he added. He just remembered that now?


Come to think of it, those are powerful words. He knew he wasn’t really a Republican. Everyone knew it. But as Laffey says, “Republicans put power over principle and they deserved to lose.” They valued the additional Senator in the “R” column more than the fact that this Senator is also going to vote with the Democrats on the most important issues as much as a Democratic Senator would.


Unfortunately, little can be done to change the past. But Chafee’s loss, and now departure from the Republican Party, can hopefully teach the establishment a thing or two about valuing principle over politics.


Not only must they cease support for their bad apples, such as Republicans In Name Only (RINOs) and corrupt Republicans, but they must actively seek to throw them out, particularly in states where they could guarantee a conservative replacement. Off the top of my head, Alaska seems like a good place to start.


Well, they’ll have to change anyway. Because while once upon a time conservatives sent money to the party for the lack of a better option, today they have wonderful alternative outlets such as the Club for Growth, which did support Laffey last year. And whether true conservatives lose battles for the Republican spirit, such as the Chafee-Laffey fiasco, or win them, such as the Walberg-Schwarz showdown in Michigan, one thing is for sure: We will not stop until we get our party back.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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