The Mark Foley scandal is a symptom of the Republican Party’s standard operating procedure. The same pattern of behavior that lead to the current unpleasantness reared its head in the sorry episodes of Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee. The lesson of the Specter, Chafee, Foley stories is a conservative one: Abandoning principle for pragmatism often backfires.
The root of the problem is a hard-and-fast rule followed by the political leadership of the GOP: Do everything you can to guarantee an incumbent running in as many seats as possible. It’s a rule that makes good sense most of the time. The incumbent advantage is huge. In the last two election cycles, only five House Republicans have lost reelection to a Democrat. Three of those were in dramatically redrawn districts, meaning they were hardly incumbents at all, or were running against other incumbents. In the Senate the advantage is not so strong, but it is still very significant.
On top of the reelection rate is the cash savings. Even in mostly Republican districts, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has to shell out some dough to guarantee a GOP win in open-seat races.
But the Republican Party has taken this incumbent-love to an extreme, and that is at the heart of the Foley problem: Even after the GOP leaders knew about Foley’s inappropriate e-mails, they begged him to run again. It’s part of a pattern.
In 2004, Sen. Arlen Specter would have lost his primary election to Rep. Pat Toomey were it not for the Party leadership’s tireless work to save him. Specter was the man who sunk Robert Bork, and thus saved Roe v. Wade. He nearly derailed Bush’s tax cuts, and he blocked tort reform. Still, Bush appeared with him twice in Pennsylvania, beaming, “I’m here to say it as clearly as I can: Arlen Specter is the right man for the U.S. Senate.”
Did Bush really want a Judiciary Committee Chairman who would later warn him not to send him any anti-Roe (read: honest) judges? Did he want a continual thorn in his side? More likely, Bush meant, “Arlen Specter is the right man to run for U.S. Senate, considering he will win reelection without requiring any more investments from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”
Similarly, Sen. Rick Santorum upset his pro-life base by jet-setting around Pennsylvania in the final week of the primary and cutting two ads for Specter. It was worth it, the party leaders figured, to keep an incumbent (who can raise his own cash just fine) on that November ballot. Sure enough, Specter was a 95% win against the Democrat, while Toomey was only a slight favorite.
Conservatives asked whether it was worth it, especially because it meant putting Specter at the helm of the Judiciary Committee. Rick Santorum responded to an angry question on this topic at the 2005 Conservative Political Action Committee: “55,” he said. He meant: The incumbent advantage is worth the costs of keeping Arlen.
Lincoln Chafee is the new Arlen Specter. Chafee has been an even worse Republican than Specter. Chafee voted against Bush’s cuts, and then he voted against George Bush: In the 2004 election, Chafee would not pull the lever for his party’s sitting President (and instead voted for his father). Finally, Chafee voted against Sam Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
These of course are only the highlights. Chafee’s tenure in the Senate is utterly undistinguished, with his actions ranging from the liberal to the inexplicable. In May of 2005, after Chafee voted against Janice Rogers Brown, David Freddoso and I wrote on NRO: “Majority Leader Bill Frist and President Bush have recently indicated they are serious about getting conservative justices on the bench, and especially on the Supreme Court. If they mean it, they won’t lift a finger for Chafee.”
But we weren’t counting on the iron-incumbent rule. Sure enough, the Bush Adminstration endorsed Chafee over his more conservative primary challenger, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey. The NRSC spent thousands on his behalf. Their explanation: Chafee is the incumbent.
Ensuring Chafee’s and Specter’s places on their respective general election ballots were acts of political expediency that enraged true conservatives. When we griped about it we were dismissed as “purists” and “idealists,” and told that our ideological extremism and willingness to undermine the GOP’s incumbents would spell victory for Democrats.
Today it is the iron-incumbent rule–supposedly the pragmatic, prudent course–that could drive the GOP into the minority.
Bob Novak has reported NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds knew about Foley’s creepy and utterly inappropriate e-mails to a former House page at the time Foley was considering (possibly leaning towards) retiring in the wake of his abandoned Senate bid. Foley had many private sector offers awaiting him, but Reynolds talked him into running again.
The same Republican Party that fought to keep Specter on the ballot after his decades of liberalism and fought to keep Chafee on the ballot after his public nose-thumbing to Bush worked to keep Mark Foley on the ticket. At any cost, keep incumbents on the ballot.
If Santorum loses in a close race this fall, his infuriating help of Specter will have been a factor. If Chafee loses this fall, what will the GOP’s “pragmatism” have gained? If the Foley scandal helps lose that seat or bring down the GOP majority, perhaps the Republican Party will learn there is not much time between the day you give up your principles for votes and the day your voters give up on you.
Tim Carney is the author of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money. He is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire