Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Response to Toomey in WSJ

Pat Toomey, President of the Club for Growth, has written a lengthy defense of the CFG’s RINO-hunting activities in the Wall Street Journal. I agree with the righteousness of the Club’s goals, and most of their methods, but I also see room for improvement.

I completely agree with Toomey’s underlying premise that extreme cases of RINOism undermine the party, and are candidates ripe for purging. Lincoln Chafee was perhaps the most egregious example of a RINO, and now that he is an ex-senator he’s subsequently decided to drop the charade of his Republican registration. There was nothing wrong with going after Chafee, and it is a sad commentary that the Rhode Island Republican party did not do something sooner.

Toomey rightly touts the Club’s star Congressmen: Flake, Pense, Coburn, etc., but the CFG doesn’t always back or recruit good candidates. Steve Laffey was not a particularly good candidate. He was a check-the-box fiscal conservative, but not a good campaigner or speaker. Laffey is probably a good guy, but whether you’re hunting RINOs or rhinos you need to bring a big gun.

In my own district, the CFG backed Matt Shaner in a crowded primary field of mostly conservative candidates. Shaner had well-publicized personal negatives, and had badly lost a primary bid for the state house, and he wasn’t particularly more conservative than the others. To the contrary, I’d argue that despite having a history with Toomey and checking all the right issue boxes, he exposed his economic flaws when he bragged that his company sought subsidized loans to develop properties in downtrodden areas. If there’s any lesson Pennsylvanians should have learned by now, it is that central planning can not reinvigorate communities with a few band-aid beautification projects, or with massive corporate welfare paid for by the productive businesses that are leaving the state in droves for lower taxation.

Shaner ended up losing the primary to a man just as conservative as himself, if not more-so. The Club should now proudly support Glenn Thompson, as I do.

And there is something to the criticism that the Club spends most of its time in Republican primaries rather than scalping marginal Democrat seats. Rep. Tim Holden should have been gone several election cycles ago. The Republican establishment bears principal responsibility for this, but is often too consumed with playing defense on their own marginal seats rather than going on offense. Groups like the Club for Growth have the opportunity to play offense.

I most emphatically believe there is a place for extra-party organizations that try to keep the Republican Party intellectually honest. And I also agree with the goals of economic liberty espoused by the CFG. But the Club for Growth or other such organizations cannot be mere shadow parties bringing knives to the gun fight held with the establishment. They would do well to refocus on where the Club can potentially excel, and where the moderates who control the party are blind.

Firstly, we need to recruit good candidates. This can not be emphasized enough. Most of the Club’s failures to date have been because of this, and the state parties have done too little recruitment of quality candidates. Party-picked candidates tend either to be moderates who are thought to be electable, or cronies who will funnel state money to the appropriate places. Once a good candidate gets himself elected though, the state party has little choice but to support him in the future.

Secondly, we need to focus on changing public perceptions about conservative economic policy. The Newt Gingrich philosophy of getting as many Republicans elected as possible will be of no use if they do not have the backing of their constituencies to make tough votes. Cyclical swings in party control do not move political the center of gravity. Ironically, a big win for the Democrats makes both parties more conservative, as the bulk of the pick-up for the Democrats (and loss for the Republicans) will be people in the center and the spectrum. Oppositely, a big win for the Republicans shifts both parties to the left. It is imperative that we move the move the political fulcrum if we want more consistently conservative governance.

Thirdly, be sure to win the fights you pick. Republicans will stop calling you the “Club for Greed” if they are consistently stung by subsequent defeat. Be the 800 pound gorilla, not the screaming toddler. Once the Club’s weight has been felt, you can speak softly and carry a big stick.


George in RI said...

Rather than criticize the Club for how it executes its mission. You ought to be criticizing the RNC for pumping millions of donors' dollars into the campaigns of liberals like Chafee.

I've heard many mean-spirited critiques of Steve Laffey, many of them outright lies from the RNC in 2006. But what Democrats and big government liberals in Rhode Island fear the most about Laffey is his ability to campaign and communicate. That's why they got so many of their legions to cross over and vote for Chafee in RI's open Republican primary. They knew there'd be little difference between Chafee and Whitehouse. They knew that Laffey would have made a huge difference. No, Laffey's loss does not fall on the shoulders of the CFG nor on the part of Laffey's abilities. It falls on the RNC and the NRSC who chose to pump millions into the traitor-RINO Chafee's campaign at the expense of Allen, Burns, Santorum and others.

I suggest you read his book: Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and sabotaged my campaign)

RI or PA, this is no Alabama - get some socks on Joe!

Sockless Joe said...


I don't mean to leave the RNC/NRSC off the hook by any means. They should have left Chafee hanging out to dry for all the times he went against the caucus. The major problem with caucus campaign committees is that they are accountable to their members, not to the public.

My criticism of the CFG is intended to be constructive. To condense what I'm trying to say, I think the CFG would do well to (metaphorically) trade in the shotgun approach for the sniper rifle.

Politics is a zero sum game, and as such, winning is everything. The more the Club wins the more seriously they will be taken.

As to Laffey specifically, well, you had a closer view than I did. One never knows for sure what variables might have caused events to turn out differently.

Sockless Joe said...

George, FYI I just ordered Laffey's book used for about six bucks (inc. shipping) on amazon.

Sol Venturi said...

Hi sockless joe:

Where did you get your misinformation about Steve Laffey.

You said he wasn't a good campaigner or speaker.

You obviously didn't do your homework.

Like George said, read the book.


Sockless Joe said...

I watched debate footage. I wasn't impressed. Was I there? No. But my impression is what it is.

I would caution against conflating the ideas of people who would be good elected officials versus people who are appealing political candidates.

Aside from Laffey, my point about candidate quality remains, whether we want to discuss CFG or GOP picks.