Lincoln Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator who last week declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, thinks the Democrats are making a huge mistake by anointing Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. In an exclusive interview with The Fiscal Times last Sunday, Chaffee said Clinton was “unfit to be president” and declined to say whether he would support her if she is the nominee.
The long-shot candidate who is a relative newcomer to the Democratic Party listed three reasons that he says disqualify her from the oval office.
- Clinton’s vote in favor of going to war in Iraq.
- What he characterized as her troubled tenure as Secretary of State [Benghazi].
- Recent revelations about donations to the Clinton Foundation while she was at State.
More than anything else, Chafee said, Clinton’s vote for going to war was a mistake of such “magnitude” that she should not be president. Chafee said the Iraq invasion took the country back into another Vietnam-type quagmire, and he said the cost -- $6 trillion – was unconscionable. “Six trillion we’ve spent in Iraq on a mistake, on a lie, because there were no weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Meantime, Chafee said, there are so many other issues confronting the country that the money could have been used to address, such as the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
“The front-runner has vulnerabilities,“ Chafee said, including ethics problems. “And I don’t think Secretary Clinton is going to be the nominee.”
Asked if he was surprised by all the money the Clintons have amassed, Chafee said, “That’s their M.O. The rules are for other people. Disgusting. Tsunami relief projects – but I’ll take all the money.”
In 2002, Chafee, then a Republican senator, was the only member of his party to vote against giving the Bush administration the authority to attack Iraq and dislodge the regime of Saddam Hussein. Because he sees the invasion of Iraq as an enormous blunder that ignited unrest across the Mideast and led to the rise of ISIS, Chafee considers opposition to the war a litmus test for any candidate.
In an almost hour-long interview at his modest office in a Warwick, R.I., strip mall, Chafee offered his unvarnished views on a wide range of subjects.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Q. What are your realistic expectations of getting the nomination given that this has been talked about as a billion-dollar campaign? Some candidates have billionaire backers such as Sheldon Adelson on the Right or Tom Steyer on the Left, so how do you see your path to the nomination?
A. Unlike the Republican side, the Democratic side is dominated by one person. Secretary Clinton has a record that is subject to scrutiny. I have a unique record of experience. No other candidate on the Democratic or Republican side has been the mayor of a city, a United States senator and the governor of one of the 50 states. [I have] an impeccable record of ethical standards -- and a vision…talking about where I want America to fit in the world. So I like my position.
Q. So you think the cash will flow to you and some of other candidates if Clinton appears to be vulnerable?
A. Yes, if any candidate can get momentum, they get financial support.
Q. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, could you support her?
A. Cross that bridge – if we get to it.
Q. Is there a specific issue that you want your candidacy to bring to the fore?
A. Yes. And particularly since Secretary Clinton is the frontrunner. The area that I am focusing on is [America’s] place in the world because we are so different in that viewpoint. Secretary Clinton is more aligned with the Condoleezza Rice-neocon-Cheney approach to the world, and I am adamantly different. I call it waging peace.
Q. Do you think so many Republicans are jumping into the race because they see [Clinton] as a vulnerable candidate?
A. I would say that’s a factor.
Q. What is the biggest hurdle you have in getting to the nomination? Is it name recognition, boots on the ground, money? What’s the big one for your campaign?
A. I do think that the media were so supportive of the Iraq war that there’s a little bit of un-enthusiasm for revisiting this issue. That’s probably the biggest. I certainly get those vibes -- let’s not go back and talk about this mistake because we drank the Kool-Aid, too.
Q. But you think it is important to go back and examine why we made this disastrous blunder?
A. Politically, we as Democrats cannot have someone who supported the war [as our nominee] when we’re trying to make this chaos and mess a Republican chaos and mess. We should be talking about education and immigration reform, but also ISIS and Boko Haram and refugees.
Q. In you announcement, you talked about calling off drone strikes. I don’t know if you said you would negotiate with ISIS, but obviously this is a brutal group. How would go about dealing with them?
A. [After the speech], reporters asked about negotiating with ISIS. I never said in my speech or in my answer that I would. What I said is we are learning who they are. We’re not sure who they are. There are a lot of Baathists and ex-Saddam Sunni people here. We need to know who these people are. That’s the first thing you do.
Q. If the Supreme Court rules against the administration in King v. Burwell…what would you do to save Obamacare and what would you do as president to safeguard the system from what appears to be a continuing effort by Republicans to dismantle it?
A. This is a legislative fix, so it becomes a campaign issue. And we saw with the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping, that things can change quickly. Who would have thought? As the Affordable Care Act gets roots in the soil and the fact that it has positive and beneficial effects on citizens in their districts , maybe it will be a little harder for those who have in the past voted against the Affordable Care Act [to do so again]. So there’s some hope there.
Q. Income inequality is an issue that is getting a lot of attention. Do you think the income gap between the middle class and the wealthy has gotten too wide, and if so, what would you do about that?
A. Both H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton addressed it and it cost them politically. H.W. Bush went back on “no new taxes, read my lips” and put in a tax package, mostly on the wealthy, and Bill Clinton continued that because we had to address the deficit, and it cost him the House and Senate in ’94. So somehow we have to get back to those policies that worked [when we] had bipartisan support for good tax policy that helps the middle class. There is definitely wage stagnation while the one percent are doing phenomenally well. I am proposing that by waging peace, we can better direct resources into beneficial social programs to help the middle class, particularly in education.
Q. How do you get back to the Washington of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, where you fight out the issues during the day and then get together and have a drink together at night?
A. Well, I’ve done it. I was a Republican mayor in Warwick, which had 32 years of Democratic mayors. I came in, had a 7-2 Democratic Council. Everything that I got passed, I needed three Democrats to get my five votes, and I did it. I got re-elected and re-elected and re-elected again. And then I went to the Senate and despite voting against the tax cuts and voting against the war in Iraq and voting against Sam Alito for the Supreme Court and stopping John Bolton from going to the United Nations, despite all that, I had good relations in my caucus because I worked at it. They came to respect me.
Q. Multiple administrations, Republican and Democrat, have wrestled with the immigration issue, largely unsuccessfully. What direction would you take – amnesty, a path to citizenship, legalize those here and have them get in the back of the line?
A. Sometimes you can pull a proposal off the shelf. I think the McCain-Kennedy path to citizenship addressed all the issues – border security, learning English, who’s eligible if you have a criminal record – it was a good bill, and I was one of the original eight co-sponsors, including Lindsey Graham, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. Not Hillary, not Senator Clinton. She declined to co-sponsor. I would reenergize that [bill]. It’s good to go.
Q. There has been some talk about political dynasties. Clinton dynasty, Bush dynasty. You’re from a family with a long history of holding political office. Do you have a problem with political dynasties?
A. Well, I saw in The New York Times today there was a cartoon and in my box it said: “Who’s he?” So my dynasty is off the radar.
Q. The economy seems to be stabilizing and getting better. What do you do to keep that ball rolling?
A. I always say confidence. That’s the rock. That encourages people to take a risk, maybe buy a house. So just make good decisions and give the people confidence that as a government we’re doing the right thing.
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