Senators are a notoriously risk-averse crowd. And now, for the second election cycle in a row, Republican senators have received a sharp reminder that if they behave too much like liberals, they may not be senators for long. ~National Review
Chafee won by an almost ten-point margin, which is not a huge victory but not really that bad for an incumbent facing his first re-election (there has been a Sen. Chafee from Rhode Island for what seems like an eternity, but this Chafee has only been in the Senate for six years). Actually, what we have seen over the last two election cycles is that the GOP establishment, other Republican incumbents and the White House will pull out all the stops to renominate and reelect their most liberal Senators, even at the risk of profoundly alienating their core conservative voters. The Rhode Island result also shows that, in the middle of what may well be a national anti-incumbency trend, conservative activists may have less punch and less effectiveness come primary elections than the Kossacks and MoveOn people whom they so happily mock. Arguably, the odds were stacked against conservatives in a Rhode Island Republican primary, which makes Laffey’s roughly 45% a respectable finish, but it also points to the weakness of conservative activists nationwide that they did not effectively or simply would not rally to support someone who better represents their views. Even if I acknowledge some of those views, such as support for the Iraq war, are abhorrent to me because I consider them to be un-conservative, it is also the case that a lot of conservative activists share Laffey’s views across the board and had every reason to want to see him win the primary. This primary probably has little national importance, because Rhode Island is particularly unrepresentative, but if it does have some broader significance it might be that it shows that conservatives nationwide are not organising or being as actively involved in this election cycle. In the end that may prove to be a far greater liability to the GOP than one lost Senate seat (which it almost certainly would have been had Laffey won the nomination).
Republican liberals in the Senate can take comfort from the fact that even if a large number of their constituents are fed up with them the party will save their bacon through massive spending, advertising and signs of support. Ironically, the effort to bolster Specter against Toomey, which Santorum–loyal party man that he is–supported, may end up costing Santorum enough conservative votes that the “protect incumbents” strategy will save their liberals and lose their social conservatives. Personally, I am not at all concerned with whether Santorum himself loses, since his foreign policy positions are somewhere between stark and raving mad, but it should be a telling indication to social conservatives (yet again) of the priorities of the GOP. But it should also demolish any bizarre theories that social and religious conservatives somehow have too much influence in the Republican Party–one looks almost in vain for any indication of any influence on the things that matter most to such people.