Last week's New Republic features a Michael Crowley profile on Lincoln Chafee that, in its weird way, continues to convince me that NARAL is gaming this out:

Exasperated as they are, however, Republicans are now riding to Chafee’s rescue as he faces possible challenges from both his left and right. Conservatives are urging Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, a hard-edged populist, to mount a primary challenge. (One Republican said to be egging on Laffey is Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe,who would like to be rid of Chafee’s dissident vote on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Inhofe chairs.) Laffey would be a tough foe:Rhode Island may be liberal, but its Republican primary voters are very conservative; internal polling by both parties shows Laffey trouncing Chafee.

But the Republican establishment, convinced that only a moderate like Chafee can survive in liberal Rhode Island, is trying to keep Laffey out of the race. National GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman has called Laffey personally to ask him not to run.

So let's take this step-by-step. Conservatives are trying to recruit Steve Laffey to run against Chafee in the primary. Internal polling is showing he'd win it. So the Republican establishment is trying to keep Laffey out and bolster Chafee's standing. So what does NARAL do? As the premier liberal organization, the platonic form of a group that enrages hard conservatives, they embrace Lincoln Chafee a year-and-a-half before the election. They give him the mark of NARAL.

Now, this is all probably in my head, but look what NARAL gains from the move if indeed it is devious:

  • They symbolically slap the Democratic party for thinking about running the anti-choice Langevin.
  • They supercharge Chafee's image as a social liberal, making him a more attractive target for a conservative crusader.
  • They give said conservative crusader a rationale for entering the race. "I was going to stay out, but NARAL!?"
  • By provoking a primary, they either take down Chafee and replace him with a wingnut who'll be shredded in the general, or they weaken Chafee for the general, thus strengthening whichever pro-choice Democrat emerges from the primary

Again, I can't say they're doing this, but it'd make an awful lot of sense. In reality, I have a feeling they're just being myopic. But I sure do hope that NARAL's really got some evil geniuses in an underground bunker somewhere gaming out moves like this one. This party, I think, really suffers from a paucity of evil geniuses.

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