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Relief for Battered Conservative Syndrome

While being an unabashed libertarian-leaning Goldwater conservative, I’ve tried to be pragmatic enough to recognize and accept political reality; specifically that majorities get to lead and that you win majorities and elections through addition, not subtraction. This has caused me, on more than one occasion over the past dozen or so years, to hold my nose and support some pretty lame Republicans in general elections.

But I’m drawing the line at Lincoln Chafee this November 7th. I’m no longer willing to be a victim of Battered Conservative Syndrome.

Chafee is the Republican-In-Name-Only (RINO) United States senator from Rhode Island. He recently won the state’s primary race against Steve Laffey, the fiscally conservative mayor of Cranston, RI. And he did it with substantial aid-and-comfort from the beltway GOP power establishment. Which is why this is no longer just about getting Chafee, it’s about teaching the Republican Party pooh-bahs a lesson; that they can’t keep smacking conservatives around without us walking out the door.

As best as I can figure, GOP establishment leaders have been spitting in conservatives’ eyes since at least around 1988. That’s when George the First ran as the candidate who would continue Reagan’s conservative agenda, only to end up talking out of both sides of his mouth when it came to reading his lips. And it’s been pretty much all down hill from there.

Yes, there was the brief euphoria over the “Contract With America” and the GOP takeover of the House in ’94. And yes, Newt & Company did exactly what they said they would do in the House the following year. But then the Republican party leaders in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Bob Dole, stopped the conservative momentum dead in its tracks. And yet, battered conservatives were compelled to stay in the tent and reward Dole with the party’s presidential nomination in 1996.

Then in 2000, the GOP establishment rammed George the Second down our throats.  Out was limited-government Reagan conservatism; in was W’s big-government “compassionate” conservatism. Indeed, it was George W’s hand-picked chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie, who, according to the conservative New Hampshire Union-Leader, declared in 2003 that the hostile-to-government Reagan Revolution was dead.

And for the last six years of all-but-complete GOP control of both Congress and the White House, we’ve seen spending go through the roof, an expansion of the federal role in education, the creation of the largest government program since LBJ’s Great Society (the prescription drug entitlement), and the enactment of the most obnoxious anti-free speech law (McCain-Feingold) in the history of our nation. And that’s just scratching the surface.

At the same time, we still have the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Education. We still have the death tax. We still provide federal funding for public broadcasting. We still have the National Endowment for the Arts. And we still have conservative judicial nominees languishing without Senate confirmation votes.

Which reminds me: Do you remember that Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court last year? Tell me THAT wasn’t a slap across the face of grassroots conservatives.

But it hasn’t just been in the realm of public policy where the party establishment has been belting around conservatives.

It’s generally been understood that philosophical differences within the party were to be fought over in primaries in which the party establishment would take a neutral position, and support whichever Republican emerged in the general election. But that tradition under George the Second has gone out the window like George the First’s “no new taxes” pledge.

Over the past few years, in Republican primary election after Republican primary election, the party establishment has actively sided with the less-conservative candidate. And fear that conservative activists would be angry as hornets over this have been dismissed by the GOP party elders thusly: “Where else are they going to go.” In other words, no matter how badly we treat them, they won’t leave us…so let’s do whatever the hell we want.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this anti-conservative meddling by the national GOP establishment occurred in the 2004 Pennsylvania primary election between liberal incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter and his conservative challenger, Rep. Pat Toomey. Had national Republican Party leaders stayed out of that primary, as they should have, the liberal Specter would not have been re-elected. But thanks to overwhelming support from President Bush, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania’s junior Republican senator, and the party establishment, Toomey lost that primary by a nose.

Smack!

Which brings us back to this month’s Chafee vs. Laffey GOP primary contest in Rhode Island.

First, when it comes to being a conservative, Lincoln Chafee makes Arlen Specter look like Tom Coburn. Chafee’s 2005 conservative rating by the American Conservative Union was a 12 – the same score uber-liberals Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer received. (Specter’s ACU rating last year, by the way, was 63.)

Lincoln’s voting record is so bad that it offends every conservative wing of the Republican Party; social conservatives, to be sure, but also the anti-tax wing, the national defense wing, the libertarian wing and the fiscal wing. The only wing of the GOP he doesn’t appear to offend is the Left wing.

But it’s not just Lincoln’s lousy voting record which should distress already-battered conservatives; it’s how he twists the knife after stabbing them in the back which makes him the RINO poster child. For example, it wasn’t enough for Lincoln to quietly vote against President Bush in the privacy of the voting booth back in the 2004 elections. No, he had to stick his thumb in our eye by publicly telling the world about it.

Indeed, the only reason anyone can possibly point to for Lincoln being a Republican is that his father was. And that, in itself, is another reason to object to Chafee. His dad was a liberal Republican, too, but at least he earned his seat in the Senate. Chafee had the seat bequeathed to him after his father died, kinda like royalty. Without his family’s personal wealth and being born on third-base politically, Li’l Link probably couldn’t get himself elected dog-catcher.

A core tenet of conservatism is, and should be, that people be rewarded for merit…not family bloodlines.

All of which led to Steve Laffey’s primary challenge this year. As in Pennsylvania two years ago, this was a battle for the philosophical soul of the GOP. A conservative Republican vs. a liberal Republican. And under normal circumstances on a level playing field, the conservative would have won. But just like in Pennsylvania, it was not to be, thanks to the inside-the-beltway party establishment waiving neutrality in the race and pulling out all the stops for the liberal candidate.

Heck, they even sent the widely popular First Lady into the state to campaign for Chafee, despite the fact that he didn’t vote for her husband against John Kerry.

Almost a year ago, despite the bottomless pit of family wealth at Lincoln’s disposal, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) — under the current “leadership” of Bob Dole’s wife, Elizabeth — used the small-dollar donations that thousands of conservatives across the U.S. sent to the NRSC to air brutal and false anti-Laffey commercials on Rhode Island TV. And the NRSC’s “bad cop” efforts continued throughout the campaign, with the organization reportedly dumping over $1 million into anti-Laffey ads.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee (RNC) weighed in, as well, spending a reported half-million dollars in an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort on Chafee’s behalf. But what makes the RNC effort particularly outrageous and offensive is that it wasn’t an effort to get out Republican votes; it was an effort to get out Democrat and independent votes to vote for the liberal candidate in the GOP primary race.

You see, in Rhode Island the Republican Party primary election to select the Republican Party nominee for any given elected office isn’t restricted to Republican Party voters. It’s open to all comers. And the Chafee campaign, with their accomplices from the RNC, actively and aggressively courted non-Republican voters and turned them out at the polls on election day.

The result: Turnout in this GOP primary race was at an unprecedented high, thanks to all the non-Republicans who showed up to vote for Chafee. So Lincoln Chafee was not the Republican candidate chosen by Republican voters. He was the Republican candidate chosen by NON-Republican voters. Does this man deserve Republican voter support in November?  Hardly.

But the political pragmatists among us will say we need to elect Chafee in November over the registered Democrat candidate in order to maintain the GOP majority in the Senate.  Not.

First, tell me what the Republican-led majority in the Senate has done for limited-government conservatism that deserves re-election. But I digress…

Secondly, the GOP currently holds a five-seat majority in the Senate. If Chafee goes down in November, that reduces the majority to four seats. That means the GOP would still be in the majority. So what’s the problem?

The problem is: What if the GOP loses four other seats, as well? But heck, you could make that same argument with a 16-seat majority, so that dog won’t hunt.

Still, if Republicans are so inept politically that they lose five net seats in November, saving Chafee will likely be of no use to them whatsoever. Chafee is already on record saying at one time that if his vote was the difference between giving Republicans or Democrats control of the Senate, he’d vote for Democrat control. But even if he didn’t, the man’s record clearly shows he would consistently be the swing vote on issue after issue, giving him power over the national agenda that such a philosophical liberal and intellectual lightweight should NEVER have, especially as a Republican.

The fact is, there is absolutely, positively no compelling reason whatsoever for conservatives and Republicans to send Lincoln Chafee back to the United States Senate. Indeed, the exact opposite argument is far more potent; that it’s critical for conservatives to send the GOP establishment a message in November that we’re not going to take this abuse any longer; that while we may not have somewhere else to go, we can always stay home. Let’s see if the party’s vaunted get-out-the-vote machine can win the general election in Rhode Island without conservative Republicans.

I’m not saying to vote for the Democrat – which for many Republicans would be like voting for Satan himself.  Just don’t vote for Chafee.  Leave that race blank on your ballot.  By doing so, you’ll be telling the national GOP party establishment to stay the hell out of local party primary races and to stop taking conservatives for granted.

A non-Chafee vote in Rhode Island on November 7th could well be relief for Battered Conservative Syndrome nationwide. Let’s all hope conservatives there have the courage to finally walk out the door.

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Written By

Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach.

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