Despite low polling, Lincoln Chafee says he’ll keep sharing his message with voters
Lincoln Chafee, the former governor of Rhode Island and a Democratic candidate for president, disagrees with Donald Trump on just about every issue.
The Republican front-runner, in fact, reminds Chafee a little bit of Barry Goldwater. A businessman-turned-politician who won the Republican nomination in 1964, Goldwater sparked a revolution in the GOP that Chafee said prompted him to eventually switch parties in 2013.
Chafee – who served as a mayor, a U.S. senator and a governor in his home state – touted his own resume and criticized Trump’s.
“He’s never held a lick of office, not one minute,” Chafee said. “Run for some office and see how you do, before you run for president.”
But it is Trump who has soared in the polls, while Chafee is sitting barely at 1 percent nationally. The newly minted Democrat has tried to brand himself as a “peacemaker president,” but he was loose on specifics on how he would achieve that goal or any other in the Oval Office.
“I’ll note that I’ve never changed on my issues,” Chafee said. “I’ve never wiffle-waffled. Some people who have switched parties have tried to cozy up to the changing Republican social issues. I haven’t. I’ve always been pro-choice, sometimes more so than Democrats. One hundred percent pro-environment, I think. Anti-war. Pro-immigration. Pro-gay rights.”
Chafee served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1999 to 2007. He became governor of Rhode Island in 2010 as an independent, and he officially became a Democrat in 2013. He did not seek re-election in 2014.
He cited foreign policy as the impetus for his presidential run. He was the lone Republican to vote against the Iraq War in 2002.
“The Iraq War, we got in, and we broke the Middle East,” Chafee said. “I don’t think enough people, particularly our potential Democratic nominee, are talking about the right way to fix it.”
Chafee said the United States needs to listen more to the people of the Middle East to learn more about the Islamic State and other challenges in that region. He spoke favorably of the Iran nuclear deal, on the same day Democratic candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton voiced her support for the agreement. But she spoke of Iran in hawkish terms, saying she would not hesitate to use military force should Iran seek to obtain a nuclear weapon in violation of the terms of the deal.
Chafee said he would support Clinton should she become the party’s nominee, but he called her tone on Iran and Russia during that speech “undiplomatic.”
“I did not like to hear that,” Chafee said.
“That’s not what we need right now,” he added. “I don’t think that’s good diplomatic language to use. We have enormous challenges in this region. We’re just going to need everybody’s help. That’s what the Iran deal started to do, bring us to common ground.”
Chafee also touched on a variety of domestic issues, but he did not dig into any of them.
He described himself as a fiscal conservative, but he did not elaborate on how or if he would cut government spending.
He said he would reform the tax code to lessen the growing income disparities in the United States. On the rising cost of higher education, he said fellow Democratic candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is “on the right track” with his plan for free tuition at public universities.
He spoke positively about President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, saying “we had to do something about the uninsured.”
And he would like to see the United States switch to the metric system.
Chafee recalled an immigration reform bill authored by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy 10 years ago, which would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the United States. That bill failed in 2005.
“I’d dust that off,” Chafee said.
Even if Chafee can attract the attention of more voters as he swings through New Hampshire over the weekend, he faces a long road ahead.
He acknowledged he sits at or below 1 percent in the polls and suggested he declared when he thought only two other Democrats – Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley – would be in the race.
Since then, Sanders and former Virginia senator Jim Webb have also entered the field. So has Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig. But Chafee said he’ll just keep sharing his record and his message with voters.
“I want to be the peacemaker president and end these wars,” Chafee said. “I just keep saying it.”
And the field of Democrats may continue to grow. Chafee speculated Vice President Joe Biden would indeed run for the Democratic nomination as well.
“It’s a lot of work, and he knows that,” Chafee said, slowly. “And it can be a lot of heartbreak, and he knows that. But it’s that timing in politics. It’s everything.”