When returns from RI last night began showing that Sen. Linc Chafee was winning his primary over conservative challenger Stephen Laffey, I bet more than one pundit arose from the sofa, cursing, and began rewriting a prepackaged column that paired Chafee’s demise with the Lieberman-Lamont primary in Connecticut as signs of partisan and ideological polarization.Perhaps some Republican chatterers will make the absurd claim that the results show the GOP is more open to centrist candidates than the Democratic Party. My colleague The Moose, an early riser, has already done a post offering a sunnier and more balanced take: Chafee’s win and Lieberman’s steady poll lead as an indie candidate indicate an appetite for centrist candidates across the board, with the different primary results being attributable to the ability of independents to participate in RI primaries. The Moose may well be right that Lieberman’s narrow loss in the August 8 primary would have become a narrow victory if indies could have participated; as always, close races make it possible to point to all sorts of different shoulda woulda scenarios (e.g., that Lieberman would have also won if he had foresworn a post-primary indie race altogether). But I wouldn’t overstate the “closed primary” factor. CT allows indies to switch their registration to participate in partisan primaries right up to Election Eve, and anecdotal evidence this year was that thousands of them were doing just that. But there’s a much bigger difference between the two primaries that should give pause to anyone making comparisons. Throughout the primary contest in RI, Republicans were deluged with polls showing Laffey getting absolutely killed in general election matchups with Dem candidate Sheldon Whitehouse; Chafee, while often trailing, was always close. That’s why national Republicans threw absolutely every available resource into helping Chafee. And by primary day, most of those voting for Laffey did so with an understanding that they might be tossing away a Senate seat at a time when Democrats were beginning to realistically think they could retake the Senate. In CT, by contrast, the implosion of Republican Senate candidate Alan Schlesinger meant that Democrats could cast primary ballots without any real fear of losing a seat. And that’s also why national Dems, even though most of them endorsed Lieberman in the primary, didn’t devote anything like the kind of effort on Joe’s behalf that GOPers made for Chafee (and why a lot of them who have since endorsed Lamont aren’t exactly kicking out the jams for him, either, given Lieberman’s pledge to stay within the Caucus if he wins). So I dunno if the two primaries can be accurately compared; there are too many missing links, or Lincs.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
It’s hard to keep up with the growing evidence of the horrors Trump plans to implement in a second term, but I wrote about one item that really struck me at New York:
There have been many credible reports that a second Trump administration would feature an assault on the federal civil-service system in order to reduce “deep state” resistance to his authoritarian ambitions — or, to use his terms for it, to “drain the swamp” — while stuffing the higher levels of the federal bureaucracy with political appointees. Those of us who are history-minded have immediately thought of this as threatening a return to the “spoils system” of the 19th century, which was more or less ended by enactment of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 (signed into law by Republican president and reformed spoilsman Chester Alan Arthur).
But the more we know about Team Trump’s plans, this understanding of what they want to do in staffing the federal government looks increasingly inadequate and anachronistic. The spoils-system beneficiaries of the distant past were by and large party foot soldiers rewarded for attending dreary local meetings, talking up the the party’s candidates in newspapers and forums, and, most of all, getting out the vote on Election Day. No one much cared what they believed in their heart of hearts about issues of the day or how they came to their convictions. It was enough that they put on the party yoke and helped pull the bandwagon to victory.
As Axios reports, one questionnaire used late in the first Trump administration to vet job applicants and another distributed by the Heritage Foundation to build up an army of second-term appointment prospects show a far more discriminating approach:
“The 2020 ‘Research Questionnaire,’ which we obtained from a Trump administration alumnus, was used in the administration’s final days — when most moderates and establishment figures had been fired or quit, and loyalists were flexing their muscles. Questions include:
“’What part of Candidate Trump’s campaign message most appealed to you and why?’
“’Briefly describe your political evolution. What thinkers, authors, books, or political leaders influenced you and led you to your current beliefs? What political commentator, thinker or politician best reflects your views?’
“’Have you ever appeared in the media to comment on Candidate Trump, President Trump or other personnel or policies of the Trump Administration?”
Similar questions are being asked for the Talent Database being assembled by the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 — the most sophisticated, expensive pre-transition planning ever undertaken for either party.
The Heritage questionnaire makes it especially clear that being just any old kind of Republican isn’t going to be enough. It asks if applicants agree with a number of distinctively MAGA issue positions, including:
“The U.S. should impose tariffs with the goal of bringing back manufacturing jobs, even if these tariffs result in higher consumer prices. …
“The permanent institutions of family and religion are foundational to American freedom and the common good. …
“The President should be able to advance his/her agenda through the bureaucracy without hinderance from unelected federal officials.”
One insider told Axios that both the 2020 Trump and 2024 Heritage questionnaires have a common and very particular purpose:
“An alumnus of the Trump White House told us both documents are designed to test the sincerity of someone’s MAGA credentials and determine ‘when you got red-pilled,’ or became a true believer. ‘They want to see that you’re listening to Tucker, and not pointing to the Reagan revolution or any George W. Bush stuff,’ this person said”.
This represents a really unprecedented effort to place the executive branch under the direction of people chosen not on the basis of merit or experience or expertise, and not on party credentials, but on membership in an ideological faction that is also a presidential candidate’s cult of personality. As such, it’s more dangerous than a return to the partisan habits of a bygone era.