Two of the state’s top Republicans threw a Lincoln Chafee lovefest at this morning’s taping of “Newsmakers” with Tim White, Ian Donnis and yours truly.
Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione said he would welcome Chafee back into the Republican fold if the independent governor-elect ever decides to rejoin the political party with which his family is still closely identified. “Paths can always be U-turns,” he said.
Pressed on whether he would really like to see Chafee become a Republican again, Cicione replied: “I would. I don’t know if the party would as a whole – I think there might be some resistance there – but look, I have great respect for his father, and I know [Lincoln Chafee] grew up in a household where party loyalty was important.”
Cicione continued with a defense of Chafee’s rationale for leaving the Republican Party back in 2007, the year after he was defeated by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in his U.S. Senate reelection campaign:
I think that he had some very fair frustrations back when he was in the Senate over some issues that are important and I don’t think were wrong. Honestly, I think the majority of the Republican Party regrets some of the things that happened in the Bush administration – the [Iraq] war possibly being one of them, but the economy and the spending certainly being one of them. Linc Chafee was a deficit hawk and there was no respect for deficit hawks when he was there. I think today people see the wisdom of that, and Republicans see the wisdom of that.
If we can just get over the emotional hurdle of having split up with him essentially, I think we would find – I hope that we would find we’re not that far apart.
Cicione also pointed to Chafee’s victory as a bit of a consolation for Republicans because it prevented Democrats from making a clean sweep of the state’s top offices last Tuesday. But he did qualify his words with a reference to Chafee’s inclusion of teacher’s union chief Bob Walsh on his transition team, saying some of the choices “scare the heck out of me, so we’ll see if this is all just rosy thinking on my part or if maybe there is a hope there.”
Cicione’s magnanimity took me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. Chafee is the scion of one of the Rhode Island G.O.P.’s best-known families, and he remains close to many in the party, including Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian – a potential Senate candidate in 2012 – and Catherine Taylor, who came within a whisker of defeating Ralph Mollis for secretary of state last week and was our other guest on “Newsmakers” this morning.
Taylor, for her part, offered kind words for Chafee in the face of criticism that he is now too close to teacher’s unions, which were key supporters of his campaign. (Taylor was a U.S. Senate aide to both Lincoln Chafee and his father for years.) Here’s a bit of what she had to say:
I know that there is that concern out there because of the teacher’s unions being so involved in his campaign. But I know that Gov.-elect Chafee has been talking with Commissioner Gist and a lot of people who care very much about education. I know he’s open to a lot of good ideas from a lot of people. I will also say, one thing you can say about Linc Chafee, he’s a fiercely independent individual and he will not let who’s around him sort of stand in the way of him hearing good ideas.
A few other interesting nuggets:
• Cicione said that whichever Republican decides to run against Whitehouse in 2012 – whether it’s Avedisian, Donald Carcieri or Cicione himself – that person will need to decide to run “sometime this winter or early spring” if they want to mount a credible campaign. “The fundraising has to start in earnest in early spring or summer,” unless the individual can fund his own campaign, he said.
• Cicione, who expects to step down when his term as Rhode Island’s G.O.P. chief ends early next year, said he “probably” wouldn’t support another term for Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
• Taylor made clear she expects to run for office again on the Republican ticket at some point in the future. “I feel obligated to those 162,000-plus voters who trusted me with their votes this time to come back in some way,” she said.
The entire half-hour conversation offered some fascinating insight into how top Republicans see their party after last week’s election and where they expect it to go next. The show will be posted online later today and will air on TV at 5:30 a.m. Sunday on both WPRI 12 and FOX Providence. (Once again, football is taking our regular time slot – set your DVRs.) I’ll update this with a link once the show is online. [Here it is.]
Update: The conscientious Ian Donnis reminds me that Cicione said he probably wouldn’t support another term for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele – my original paraphrase was a little too definitive. (I’ve added the “probably” above.)
Update #2: The new episode of “Newsmakers” is now available online – watch it here on WPRI.com.