What Lincoln Chafee brings to the 2016 Presidential race


Yesterday in Wilson 101, former Governor and Senator of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee ‘75 P’ 14 P ’17, in a partnership with the Brown Journal of World Affairs, participated in a Q&A on various national and international issues. This comes right on the tail of Chafee basically announcing that he was running for President of the United States, and offered ample opportunity for participants to get an early understanding of his agenda and positions on key topics in the upcoming race.

With Hillary Clinton dominating the democratic nomination conversation, it can be hard to understand why other Democrats would even bother. Yet, as Chafee said himself, “There shouldn’t be one person out there…voters want options.” Chafee would certainly be a very different candidate from Clinton.

Here is what Lincoln Chafee could bring to the presidential race:

A unique look into the different levels of government

Chafee would be the only candidate (thus far) to serve at the three levels of government, having been the mayor of Warwick, RI, as well as both a senator for and governor of Rhode Island. Many of these terms were served without his party in control of the other offices, making him an example of bipartisan politics that work.

A unique look into the two parties

Not many presidential candidates will be able to say that they have been Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. When serving as mayor and senator, Chafee was a member of the Republican party, before running to become Rhode Island’s first independent governor since 1790. Then, in 2013, he registered as a Democrat and is currently a member of the party.

His relative newness to the Democratic party does not make him any less passionate, however. He frequently stated the party needed to “hold the presidency!” He also seemed to be open about the implications associated with switching parties, stating that his convictions never changed, but his party did. He remained a Republican for as long as he did, according to Chafee, in order to “deliver for Rhode Island” when the party was still in power.

A strong track record

Chafee is certainly not afraid to flaunt the fact that in 2002 he voted against the invasion in Iraq. In fact, it seems to be one of his main attacking points, insisting that the candidates who made bad and hasty decisions then would make them again in the face of crisis. He also spoke of his fiscal record, as he voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. His clean history on these two issues could serve him well in debates, though he should beware of his voting on bankruptcy reform (he voted for alongside his then-fellow Republicans).

Focus on international issues

It may seem a bit odd, what with all to domestic turmoil facing our country, for there to be a candidate more focused outwards. Perhaps because he has such a strong record on international issues, or because he served on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Chafee seems to be doing just that. Some of the main points on his agenda seemed to be restructuring our policies on torture, wiretapping, and drone strikes. A focus on international issues will force his fellow nominees, most notably Clinton, to answer some important questions about their international voting record (and Clinton’s controversial time as Secretary of State). While these issues may give him a distinctive edge of some of his competitors, he will have to fall down somewhere on domestic issues if he hopes to keep the public’s attention.

Chafee didn’t seem to have much of a position on hot-button domestic topics such as police brutality or campaign finance reform. Even if he does manage to diversify his agenda, he will still be a long shot. In fact, his running seems to be so strange that some have even suggested that he actually just promoting his new book. Either way, however, we can expect Chafee to keep the race interesting. As he said himself, “What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment…probably.”

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