Few political observers were surprised in May of 2013 when Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee completed his leftward ideological makeover and became a Democrat.
During his seven years in the Senate, Chafee was consistently the most liberal Republican. Yet that only went so far with Ocean State voters, some of the nation’s most devoutly Democratic. In the November 2006 Democratic wave, Chafee got tossed from office — after only narrowly surviving a Republican primary challenge from the right.
Undaunted, Chafee in 2010 sought — and won — the Rhode Island governorship as an independent. In Providence, he governed from the left, proposing an array of tax increases. He memorably refused to call the Christmas tree at the Rhode Island State House what it was. He referred to the towering fir, decorated with lights, tinsel, and toys, as a “holiday tree,” insisting that “I’m representing all of Rhode Island, I have to be respectful of everyone.”
Chafee finally just became a Democrat. But in September 2013, facing low approval ratings, he announced he would not seek re-election for a second term as governor.
Curiously, Chafee is now setting his sights higher. He recently told CNN he’s all-in for the Democratic presidential nomination for president. This just one week after announcing he’d formed an exploratory committee.
Chafee is among several seemingly has-been Democratic politicians hoping to catch fire against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and ex-Virginia Sen. Jim Webb are taking hard looks at challenging her from the left. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, may also jump in.
The challenges to Chafee actually winning the Democratic nomination are abundant. First, there’s the fact that he served in Washington as a Republican. Chafee in fact harkens back to an earlier Republican breed. His father, John Chafee, was a moderate governor and senator as well as Secretary of the Navy. John Chafee was “respected as a member of one of the ‘Five Families’ that dominated the state’s business and political landscape,” writes the 2014 Almanac of American Politics.
Lincoln Chafee was an Andover prep school classmate of Jeb Bush, the future Florida governor, likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, and himself scion of a prominent GOP family. In 1999 the younger Chafee, then mayor of Warwick, was already running for the Senate when his father passed away. Appointed for the final 14 months of his dad’s term, he held on to the Senate seat in 2000.
Though Chafee opposed large chunks of President George W. Bush’s agenda, he was still a Republican. Democratic primary voters in 2016, whatever their reservations about Hillary Clinton, aren’t likely to forget that fact.
Chafee’s biggest threat to his former Senate colleague’s White House dreams is his vote against the 2002 Iraq war resolution. He was the only Republican in the Senate to oppose it. Hillary Clinton twisted herself into knots in 2008 trying to explain her “aye” vote, which primary challenger Barack Obama successfully seized upon. Yet it seems unlikely lightning could strike twice on this issue.
Chafee’s toughest obstacle may simply be his own personality. As the Almanac notes, “Chafee is soft-spoken and taciturn to the point of shyness.” It’s going to be tough to fire up Elizabeth Warren-loving lefties with that introverted approach.
His national fundraising appeal is also untested. Hillary Clinton can be expected to rake in tens of millions of dollars for a nomination most assume is already hers.
So don’t expect to see another President Lincoln in the White House come January 2017. Which is a shame, because arguments over what to call the White House Christmas tree would be fun to watch.
Notice to Readers: The American Spectator and Spectator World are marks used by independent publishing companies that are not affiliated in any way. If you are looking for The Spectator World please click on the following link: https://spectatorworld.com/.
The offer renews after one year at the regular price of $79.99.