Making Sense of Lincoln Chafee’s Bizarre Campaign
If you haven’t noticed, Lincoln Chafee was running for president. You may have also noticed that on Friday morning, he officially dropped out of the race. His announcement marks the end of his four and a half month campaign, despite never polling above 2 percent nationally.
While I do not mean to belittle Lincoln Chafee–a distinguished politician who has been a Mayor, Governor, and Senator for the state of Rhode Island–nearly all of the evidence and discussion about his presidential bid has led to everyone asking why he ran in the first place. During his career, Chafee was a vocal opponent to the Iraq War and was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the use of force in the Iraq War (Chafee later switched to the Democratic Party in May 2013). But despite his record, his presidential campaign has been arguably the most underwhelming part of the 2016 primary race.
While Chafee’s campaign may have felt like it was over before it started, he officially fell into obscurity during the Democratic debate. In the debate, Chafee launched a thinly veiled jab at Hillary Clinton, saying that the United States need to restore American credibility with the world and that the next president needs the best ethical standards. His affront was relatively bold–especially considering no one else on the stage was that willing to confront her–but when moderator Anderson Cooper asked if Clinton wanted to respond, she merely said “no.” That was that. No one pushed back; no one was outraged that Hillary Clinton didn’t have to answer a nearly direct challenge from another candidate.
When a longshot candidate announces his campaign to be president, many wonder if he is in the race to talk about the issues and force the other candidates to do so as well rather than actually get elected. But after the first Democratic debate, Lincoln Chafee couldn’t even do that much.
By most accounts, Chafee had a weak debate performance even if you don’t factor in his inability to engage Hillary Clinton. But it didn’t end there; in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN the next day Blitzer all but asked him to end his campaign right then and there.
Chafee’s campaign officially began back in June, and since then he has largely failed to generate attention. Foreign policy was one of his primary focal points, using the phrase “Prosperity Through Peace” as a major campaign tagline. He presented himself as an alternative to the more hawkish Republican party and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Arguably the highlight of his announcement speech was a call for the United States to switch to the metric system. While that might actually not be the worst idea, having it as a pillar of your presidential platform is questionable. I don’t know about you, but when someone says we need to change our measurement system, I don’t reach for my wallet to donate to their campaign.
Chafee’s polling remained steady since the beginning of his campaign, fluctuating between 0 and 2 percent. Yes–there have been several polls in which none of the respondents said that they would vote for Lincoln Chafee. At one point, Conan O’Brian took it upon himself to simply try and get Chafee up to 1 percent.
Money has also been a significant problem for Chafee. NPR recently took a look at all of Chafee’s major campaign donors–there are 10 of them. In total, he raised about $15,000. In fairness to Chafee, he did raise nearly $4,000 from donors whose names do not need to be disclosed because they gave less than $200 each, but still. For some comparison, Bernie Sanders has raised over $41 million from over 65,000 donors.
From the start of his campaign, it has been hard for anyone to really understand why Chafee was running in the first place. While he focused largely on his anti-war views, he was not unique in that respect. Bernie Sanders also opposed the war in Iraq and generally does not support the use of force abroad unless it is absolutely necessary. Chafee also trumpeted his integrity. He has often said, “I am very proud that over my almost 30 years of public service I have had no scandals.” While integrity is certainly something that people should look for in a candidate, it is not the only thing. Most people want someone they can trust, but who also has good ideas and a strong vision for the future–a combination that Lincoln Chafee never quite seemed to communicate.