Still, the Club for Growth’s zealous backing of Laffey reflects his role as a soldier in the national conservative movement, which places a premium on ideological conformity. Although the influential Washington-based group, founded in 1999 by National Review president Dusty Rhodes and other “like-minded pro-growth conservatives,” isn’t above criticizing Bush’s profligate fiscal practices, it is also intent on driving the national Republican Party even farther to the right.
As John C. Fortier, a research fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote on that think tank’s Web site, the Club for Growth support for challenges to moderate Republicans “has had an effect, making it more difficult for moderates to oppose their party on certain issues. The Club almost beat Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter with its candidate, then-Rep. Pat Toomey, in the 2004 GOP primary. A Laffey win would be the group’s biggest triumph yet.”
Similarly, in a February editorial in National Review Online, the editors wrote, “Even if Laffey were to win the primary but lose the general election, beating Chafee would send a helpful message to the kind of Republican who thinks Chafee’s ‘independence’ is something to admire and emulate (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine come to mind) . . . [and regardless] what do conservatives have to lose? The worst possible outcome is only that Rhode Islanders will trade a virtual Democrat for a real one.”
Chafee steps up his game
A relative newcomer to Rhode Island, WPRO-AM talk-show host Dave Barber seemed charmed by Laffey’s chatty accessibility as he prepared for on-air interview with the Cranston mayor on the morning of Thursday, June 29. Venting frustration about his unsuccessful efforts to get Chafee on his show, Barber groused, “Why doesn’t he talk? . . . To me, he seems invisible.” It made for an easy transition into Laffey’s promise “[that] the Republican Party’s going to be reformed in Rhode Island — it’s just not going to happen until after November.”
MAN ON A MISSION: A self-described change agent, Laffey is also a soldier in the Club for Growth’s efforts to drive the GOP even farther to the right.
Then, to Barber’s surprise, Chafee phoned in a short time later, more than holding his own in the process. Asked about what the talk-show host called his low profile, Chafee recounted his lengthy involvement in Rhode Island politics, including serving as the mayor of heavily Democratic Warwick through the ’90s, and his place at the center of contentious issues in the nation’s capital, ranging from the war and federal tax cuts to the proposed flag-burning amendment. “I don’t seek the spotlight,” Chafee said, pointing to his securing of federal funds to recently raze the old Jamestown Bridge. “I seek results.”
Asked about criticism that he’s not Republican enough, Chafee cited himself as a champion of such traditional GOP strengths as environmental protection and wariness of foreign entanglements. When Barber suggested that true Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, Chafee gamely countered, “I’d argue the opposite” — that traditional Republicans favor keeping the government out of people’s personal lives. And while the senator has employed an incumbent’s typical strategy of holding off on debates, he repeated a pledge to debate Laffey during the Congressional recess in August, an event that will make for riveting political theater. By the time the conversation was over, Barber crowed, “Senator Chafee — you have to give the guy props.”