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University alum, longtime RI politician Chafee enters presidential race

Former governor, senator Lincoln Chafee ’75 P ’14 P ’17 embraces Libertarian platform

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, January 24, 2020

Chafee is the second University graduate to join the 2020 presidential race, alongside businessman Andrew Yang ’96.

During his four years on College Hill preceding his political career, former governor and senator Lincoln Chafee ’75 P ’14 P ’17 spent his time in a different arena: the wrestling ring.

The “sense of perseverance through the ups and downs” provided by his wrestling experience has remained “valuable” throughout Chafee’s political career, the presidential hopeful told The Herald. This career spans three decades and four political parties.

Today, he is wrestling for a new title: President of the United States. Chafee — Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat — announced his candidacy for president Jan. 5, this time as a libertarian.

His announcement marks the second University alum vying for the nation’s highest office, along with entrepreneur Andrew Yang ’96.

Chafee comes from a long line of Rhode Island politicians. His great-great grandfather was Henry Lippitt, the 33rd governor of Rhode Island; his great-great uncle Charles Warren Lippitt ’1865 was the 44th governor. His father, John Chafee, served as the 66th governor and served in the U.S. Senate, while  his great-great uncle, Henry Frederick Lippitt ’1878 also served as a U.S. senator.

Lincoln Chafee served as mayor of Warwick as a Republican for seven years following his election in 1992. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate — again, as a Republican — following his father’s death in 1999, before being elected to serve a full term in 2000.

During this seven-year term, his relationship with the Republican Party soured as he noticed a growing rift between his own policy objectives and those his colleagues advocated.

“I left the Republican party back in 2007 because of the changes the Republicans were making,” Chafee said, criticizing the party for aggressive foreign policy, facilitating an increase in the deficit and “their obsession with social issues.” He was, for example, the only Republican senator to vote against authorizing the Iraq War in 2002.

“That’s not my traditional Republican Party,” he added.

Following Chafee’s tenure in the Senate, he joined the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, where he was a visiting fellow until his successful election to the office of governor in 2010 as an independent. Navigating the political landscape as an independent was challenging: “(I) didn’t have a political party to have my back,” he admitted.

So in 2013, Chafee made his third party shift to the Democratic Party, then running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. He ended his campaign within a few months, after failing to garner significant support. By the end of his campaign, Chafee had become frustrated with his new party, characterizing the Democratic nomination process as “biased against Hillary Clinton’s opponents.”

Following his Democratic presidential bid, he moved to Wyoming in search of “a new adventure,” and switched his party affiliation a fourth time to libertarian.

Stressing the importance of avoiding “foreign entanglements” and “endless wars,” the Libertarian Party’s anti-war platform was a big draw for Chafee. He views contemporary public distrust in government as a consequence of the actions of the Bush administration in Iraq.

Chafee is unlikely to face opposition from libertarians on his anti-war stances, which have remained more or less constant throughout his entire career. But there are other policy areas where members of Chafee’s newly adopted party may push back on his views.

One such issue is gun control. “We are very pro-Second Amendment,” said Pat Ford, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Rhode Island. Chafee, on the other hand, “has a history of being very pro-gun control,” Ford added.

Ford also pointed to public education as a possible point of contention given the dissonance in views between Chafee’s past and current party platform. “I look forward to his evolution on issues,” he added.

Though news of Chafee’s Libertarian presidential bid first came as a slight shock to Ford, he said that he is not surprised that the current political climate is prompting people to turn from the two major parties in search of another solution. “People are looking for answers,” Ford said. “I welcome Lincoln to the race.”

This does not mean that Chafee’s path will be devoid of obstacles, Ford added. “There is no coronation for our candidates. He will have to travel to every single state convention to convince our delegates that he can give voice to the Libertarian Party.”

The presidential hopeful is doing just that, said Christopher Thrasher, Chafee’s campaign manager. “Each weekend, from now until the first weekend in May, Governor Chafee will be traveling to Libertarian Party state conventions (as many as three per weekend),” Thrasher said.

Delegates of the U.S. Libertarian Party will choose the party’s nominee at the Libertarian National Convention in Austin, Texas May 21.

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