Politics as Usual by Jim Baron
Attorney General Patrick Lynch says he “did the honorable thing” by stepping away from a Democratic primary fight with Frank Caprio in the recent governor’s race. But an argument can be made that he cost the Democratic Party, and Caprio, the governorship when he did so.
He told the Providence Journal that by dropping out of the primary, he gave Caprio a clear road to campaign without a primary opponent. But that could be precisely the seeds of Caprio’s downfall.
If Lynch had stayed in and made a primary fight of it, he would have kept Caprio politically “honest.” He would have kept him, in effect, a Democrat.
With Lynch out of the race, Caprio felt free to swerve to the right, chasing what had seemed to be the new conservative zeitgeist. Talking about small businesses and how he, unlike principal opponent Independent Lincoln Chafee, was not going to raise your or anybody else’s taxes.
That led Caprio to two bad assumptions: one, that he could keep the Democrats on his side while he dabbled in moderate Republicanism and, two, that he could eat John Robitaille’s lunch, because Republican Robitaille had low name recognition and, at least at the start, little money.
Democrats, given the option of an Independent who was largely simpatico with them on social issues, even when he used to be a Republican (it was Democrats and who disaffiliated and Democrat-leaning Independents who gave Chafee his 2006 Republican primary win over Steve Laffey) and a Democrat who was doing his best to behave as a Republican, chose Chafee.
Republicans, given the choice between a real Republican and a Democrat who was crossing the line to poach their votes, went with the Republican.
As a result, Caprio came in third with a paltry 25 percent of the vote after he started off looking invincible by blowing Lynch out of the primary race before it even began.
Had Lynch stayed in, one of two things would have happened.
He might have lost to Caprio, but kept Caprio closer to Democratic ideals and issues. That means Caprio would have held on to a lot of Democratic voters who wound up going to Chafee. Or, if Caprio ran to the right anyway, Lynch might have beaten Caprio in the primary, ran for governor as a real Democrat, which would have deprived Chafee of a lot of Democrat and Independent-left votes, setting up a race between Lynch and Robitaille. Lynch quite possibly might have won the general election in an electorate that had clearly become un-enamored of Gov. Don Carcieri and was likely ready for a Democrat after sixteen straight years of Republican governors. In that scenario, it would probably have been Chafee lagging behind with 25 percent of the vote.
But with no Lynch to tie Caprio to the Democratic orthodoxy, Chafee WAS the Democrat in the race and he took the prize.
I said in an early column that Rhode Islanders like to elect Republican governors to balance out the Democrat-heavy General Assembly and that they might see Independent Chafee as the Republican in this race. It turned out just the opposite. Chafee got elected because he was perceived as the closest candidate in the race to being a Democrat.
Politics is a strange and quirky beast.
Speaking of Democrats miscalculating, how badly have Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama screwed up what should have been a winning fight over the Bush tax cuts?
It is a situation that begs for the old Casey Stengel line: “Doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game?”
The Senate Republicans were handing the Democrats a gift, for Pete’s sake, by insisting that they wouldn’t allow the tax cuts to be extended for the middle class and below unless hundreds of billions of deficit dollars also went to millionaires and billionaires. Even Republican House-Speaker-to-be John Boehner acknowledged that, if he had to forego the tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone else, he would do so.
The Democrats’ first mistake was not using this weapon for the mid-term elections. They could have held weekly votes in September and October, forcing the Republicans to vote no on lowering taxes for 98 percent of American taxpayers to stick up for their rich friends. If they had done that, the November midterms would not have been anywhere near the debacle it turned out to be for the Democrats.
But even after they let that opportunity slip through their fingers, the Democrats continued to fumble the ball, squandering chance after chance to make the Republicans forsake the middle class to help the rich, or make them give in and allow the tax cut only for families making under $250,000 a year, which would have been a HUGE Democratic victory.
Then Obama bumbles into the middle of the argument, folding like a Sears tent in the face of Republican intransigence instead of using it against them.
He goes ahead and makes a woeful bargain with the Republican Congressional leadership — they did everything except make him wear a propeller beanie to the press conference where he announced the deal — that even the most loyal of Democrats can’t abide.
So now that Obama has made a deal to extend the tax cuts for the middle class (by eating the tax cut for the uber-wealthy) that becomes the status quo. Therefore, when the Congressional Democrats try to oppose the Obama deal, it is they who are now throwing a monkey wrench into the tax cut for the middle class. They are seen as the ones standing in the way of a break for the folks at the mid-to-lower end of the income scale — their natural constituency, for heaven’s sake! — just to make an ideological point about sticking it to the wealthy.
The political jujitsu that they had on the Republicans is now being applied against them, and they are the ones lying on the floor, looking up with stars circling their heads and wondering what hit them.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t look that smart, but you have to hand it to him, he pulled the strings like Gepetto on this one.