A familiar face will be in the news again as the run-up to the 2020 presidential election begins to churn, as former Republican Senator, former Independent-turned-Democratic Rhode Island Governor and former Warwick mayor Lincoln Chafee is pursuing a bid – this time on the Libertarian ticket.
“The bottom line is I still do care about the direction of the country and I have some experience in getting elected to office, and this is an opportunity to continue expressing my opinions,” he said on Tuesday in a phone interview. “I still enjoy having the opportunity to make this country better for our children and our grandchildren.”
Chafee, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, further expounded upon his interest in another presidential run. He described being approached by members of the Libertarian Party after he registered as a Libertarian voter in Teton County, Wyoming, where he maintains a residence in Jackson.
Although he admitted that the interest he received from the party was “unexpected,” Chafee said that he was also “surprised” by how many of the core tenants and principles of the Libertarian he identified and agreed with – listing off a few, they include being anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-torture, pro-gay rights, pro-choice (“Let people make their own personal decisions,” he said) and being “anti-deficit.”
“Both parties are guilty of the deficit,” Chafee said of the two traditional political parties. “Another trillion dollars this year…That's Republicans and Democrats, and something has got to change.”
Chafee said that bringing an end to war – he specifically mentioned the ongoing conflict in the Middle East – was a core reason for running.
“I think the major political party system engineers it so they get a war supporter in there, and that's just what has happened it seems every time,” he said. “Disarmament and non-proliferation should be where we want to go.”
Although the Libertarian party saw its biggest turnout in 2016 in its relatively short history (it held its first National Convention in 1972), when candidate Gary Johnson grabbed nearly 4.5 million votes and 3.29 percent of the overall field, a Libertarian politician has never held a seat in the House or Senate and obviously have quite a gap to narrow to be competitive during the upcoming election. But it is a challenge Chafee is up to, should he be selected as the nominee.
“These things can happen quickly. My old party, the Republican Party, was formed in 1854 and they had the presidency in 1860,” he said, referring to Abraham Lincoln, after whom Chafee was named.
Speaking about the Republican Party, Chafee said he felt that the party has taken an enormous shift to the right even just from recent years, noting a disappearance of more moderate Republicans to balance out the hardline views of more Southern Republicans – views that increasingly have become anti-choice, anti-gay rights and, baffling to Chafee, a wariness of trade agreements with other countries.
“Free trade was a Republican platform,” Chafee said. He mentioned Ronald Reagan, who originally in 1980 proposed the concept that would eventually become NAFTA, the trade agreement between North America, Canada and Mexico that was signed by outgoing Republican president George H.W. Bush in 1992 and finalized by his successor, Bill Clinton, in 1993. A revamped version of NAFTA, the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, has not yet been finalized by the U.S.
Troubling also to Chafee is the wave of resistance to combating climate change. President Trump has led this charge, rebuking manmade climate change and its environmental implications as a hoax. He started the process to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord in 2017, has eased restrictions on power plant emissions (and recently his EPA announced it would no longer require oil and gas companies to detect methane leaks in newly drilled wells) and has recently attempted to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
Chafee described Trump’s policies on climate change as “an absolute threat,” saying “We have 7.7 billion people on this planet and obviously it is a fact that human activity is having an effect. We have to be aware of that and not deny it and deal with it.”
Chafee described the Trump presidency as a “phenomenon,” where other Republicans – even those who may disagree with Trump’s policies or decisions – don’t dare speak in opposition.
“I think it's a moment in time with this character who has solidified his base – and the base is solid for a number of reasons – but it is solid. And that means if any Republicans speak out, they'll have a primary, and it will be an energetic primary from that base,” he said. “As a result, nobody in the Republican Party dares question any of these policies even if they may historically disagree with these policies.”
Along with the shifting nature of the Republican Party, Chafee mentioned his unease with what he sees as a troubling trend of division among the American populace, and a rise of open racism and violent behavior.
“We’re certainly more divided than even 10 years ago,” he said. “What I see is we're not making strides in the area of civilized behavior…I would rather see this country be a leader in peacemaking, diplomacy and civilized behavior rather than let countries in western Europe lead the way.”
When asked about what people might think about Chafee changing his party identity once again – he has already been a Republican, Democrat and Independent – Chafee defended his decision on the grounds that his beliefs and voting record have remained consistent.
“I'd say I have not changed and I believe my record would reflect that,” he said, mentioning always being pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-war and prioritizing cutting spending as a means to make balanced budgets. He said that he doesn’t identify with the farther reaches of some Libertarian ideology that would advocate for an abolition of the federal government entirely.
“I still have some lingering belief that our Constitution envisioned a federal government here for some purposes,” he said, mentioning the maintenance of infrastructure as an example.
Locally in Warwick, Chafee said he has kept an eye on the happenings of the city. He cautioned about the financial implications of letting contractual obligations such as healthcare and pension liabilities pile up.
“Once you get behind the eight ball on them it becomes exponentially more expensive,” he said. “I like balancing the books and that's what I like about Libertarian party – they prefer a balanced budget.”
Chafee said the ultimate decision on who will become the Libertarian nominee is up to the party, but he is excited for the opportunity regardless.
“Life is good and a new adventure is always good at this stage in my life,” he said.