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Lincoln Chafee’s Clinton Critique Is Actually Compelling

Lincoln Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against the Iraq War. Now neither a senator nor a Republican, the war is a major reason he is contemplating a run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Although Iraq went unmentioned in a halting announcement video [1]of sorts, Chafee has said Hillary Clinton’s vote for the war is disqualifying and that the 2003 invasion helped trigger much of the chaos rippling through the rest of the world.

“I don’t think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake,” he told [2] the Washington Post. “It’s a huge mistake and we live with broad, broad ramifications today—of instability not only in the Middle East but far beyond and the loss of American credibility. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

Chafee would be an unusual challenger. In just the last ten years, he has been a Republican, independent, and a Democrat. In fact, his announcement he was exploring the Democratic nomination came less than two years after he joined the party.

Nor would this be the first time the adjective “unusual” has been used to describe Chafee. Born to wealth and privilege, he was known for drug use and a lack of direction in his early years. He hailed from one of Rhode Island’s founding “five families [3].” His father, John Chafee, was perhaps the last great Rockfeller Republican.

After graduating from Brown University in 1975, he attended horseshoeing school in Montana and spent some seven years working at harness racetracks. He more or less blundered into politics, moving from a seat on the Warwick, R.I. city council–where was nicknamed “Missing Linc” and criticized for a lack of engagement with local issues–to the mayoralty, then the U.S. Senate upon his father’s death.

Rhode Island Republicans didn’t have a deep bench and the younger Chafee had expressed interest in running for the seat in 2000, when his father planned to retire. So the state’s GOP governor appointed him to fill out the remainder of the term.

Yet Chafee to a large extent followed in his father’s footsteps. He was elected to the Senate for a full term in his own right in 2000, where he became a high-profile liberal Republican. Control of the Senate briefly hung in the balance as Chafee considered switching parties, but another GOP liberal, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, jumped first.

Chafee beat a conservative primary challenger in 2006, but lost reelection in part because of the Iraq War he had voted against. He left the Republican Party and was elected governor of Rhode Island without the support of either party. He ended up with poor approval ratings and declined to run for reelection.

By most measures, Jim Webb would be the more credible antiwar challenger to Clinton, even with his well publicized misgivings [4] about the Iran deal. A fellow one-term senator, Webb has a formidable military background while the moppy-haired Chafee looks like he should either be attending classes at Brown or shoeing horses somewhere.

In a 2001 New Republic profile [5], Michael Crowley compared Chafee to the Chauncy Gardner character in the Peter Sellers film Being There. It’s a backhanded compliment, as Gardner’s “simple aphorisms about gardening are misinterpreted as profound political insights.”

Chafee, however, has shown a willingness to actually criticize Clinton on foreign policy and her coziness to Wall Street in a way that Webb has hesitated to do and Martin O’Malley probably can’t if he is interested in a longer term career in the Democratic Party. And while Chafee was a Republican, he was never as conservative as Webb. In 2005, Clinton and Chafee had identical American Conservative Union ratings.

“She needs to be asked hard questions about her Iraq war vote and her tenure as Secretary of State and where she wants to take this country,” Chafee told [6]The Hill. “I think she’s tone deaf on some of these issues.”

On Iraq, in particular, he says, “I did my homework and I looked at the evidence….she got it wrong.” He is also not shy about tying the war to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The main reason Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination, and probably the presidency, in 2008 was that she voted for the Iraq War. It would be fitting if her main Democratic challenger were one of the seven Republicans who voted no.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of the Daily Caller and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? [7]

Follow @jimantle [8]

24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Lincoln Chafee’s Clinton Critique Is Actually Compelling"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 27, 2015 @ 4:49 am

It’s as easy as ABC.

Anybody but Clinton

#2 Comment By Hibernian On April 27, 2015 @ 5:08 am

Challenging HRC from the Left? We need a President like that like we need a hole in the head.

#3 Comment By Of Course On April 27, 2015 @ 8:12 am

He’s right that HRC’s “yea” on Iraq is disqualifying, but then the list of her disqualifying atttributes and decisions is very long, and Chafee himself doesn’t bring much more to the table than opposition to Hillary.

#4 Comment By Brian On April 27, 2015 @ 9:26 am

Probably a pipe dream but I’d love to see Chafee challenge Clinton on a lot of these points on the debate stage. He’s well positioned to be a thorn in her side.

#5 Comment By Tzx4 On April 27, 2015 @ 9:26 am

“I don’t think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake,”. Allow me to take issue with that one.
On the surface, that is a damning statement, however, it rests on the assumption that she is not capable of learning from her mistakes. Personally, my mistakes in life are my most effective teachers.

#6 Comment By balconesfault On April 27, 2015 @ 10:01 am

It’s great that Chafee voted against the war. In my opinion, his vote is best compared not with Hillary – who voiced serious concerns about authorizing Bush to invade Iraq when she cast her vote – but with the Senator from his neighboring state, Joe Lieberman, who not only enthusiastically voted to authorize the war but seems to never for a day have regretted that vote.

That said, it’s a shame that Chafee is not a real leader. Had he been, perhaps he could have rallied some conservative opposition to giving Bush/Cheney a blank check, rather than being a lone voice in the wilderness.

#7 Comment By John On April 27, 2015 @ 10:04 am

Both parties take it for granted that we should not refrain from doing whatever we like to whomever we want at any time we wish, just because of how a particular whomever might feel about it. They do this, because the electorate feels broadly the same way.

Chafee was a waste of skin in every office he has ever held. If Hillary Clinton is to have a credible primary challenger, it should be someone able to match her appetite for work.

#8 Comment By redfish On April 27, 2015 @ 10:38 am

I think more damning is that she voted for authorizing force, then she attacked Bush for actually using it. Of course, she has her explanations why; but it doesn’t really speak highly of her as a leader

#9 Comment By John On April 27, 2015 @ 11:40 am

@redfish/10:38 a.m.:

Voting to hand someone the car keys and voting for them to drive the car off a cliff are very different things. But I guess nuances like this are for followers.

#10 Comment By collin On April 27, 2015 @ 11:54 am

If HRC is going to support the Iranian nuclear deal, that would a significant way to overcome the Iraq vote. (So far she has been positive.) Maybe the best way to create a dove is actually have an experience with the military battle.

For all the conservative writers, Antle, Douthat, and Will (at least for Graham), is they are all complaining about past behavior and votes. Where is the support for the Iran deal that would make a true difference and statement?

#11 Comment By James Canning On April 27, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

I long have been a fan of Linc Chafee. Bravo.

#12 Comment By Francis On April 27, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

“Voting to hand someone the car keys and voting for them to drive the car off a cliff are very different things. But I guess nuances like this are for followers.”

John, very few understand or care to understand the Resolution’s details.

#13 Comment By cfountain72 On April 27, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

Tzx4: Yes, you are correct: mistakes are for learning from. So what can HRC point to during her tenure as Secretary of State that shows she actually learned anything from the mistake of voting for the Iraq War?

Take your time…

Peace be with you.

#14 Comment By Ken Hoop On April 27, 2015 @ 3:18 pm

Tzx4 says

“On the surface, that is a damning statement, however, it rests on the assumption that she is not capable of learning from her mistakes.”

You obviously haven’t been following her hawkish career in Obama’s Administration. Which if you
heard her reaction to her contribution to the murder of Khadaffi, establishes Hillary’s sociopathy even more than her lack of a learning curve. And if the Iraq War had not experienced a resilient insurgency, and thus protracted war, Hillary, like Cheney would have cared less that no WMDs were found

#15 Comment By philadelphilawyer On April 27, 2015 @ 6:27 pm

Chafee’s critique IS telling.

Problem is, he can’t seem to make it as a presidential candidate in the Republican Party (aka “Party of Peace”) primaries. Funny how folks here excoriate Hillary morning noon and night for her Iraq AUMF vote, and her other hawkish actions and views, while the opposition party (the real one, not the one that TAC Republicans would like it to be), has one guy, maybe, who is, at best, arguably sorta more of a dove than Hillary, and a half dozen guys who are more hawkish than her, running for President.

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 27, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

“On Iraq, in particular, he says, “I did my homework and I looked at the evidence….she got it wrong.” He is also not shy about tying the war to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

Uhhhh “wow!”

#17 Comment By cdugga On April 27, 2015 @ 10:50 pm

I voted for the war too. I was told by my president, who might know better than me, and told by the head of the CIA, that better know more than me, and finally told by Powell, who may not have known a damn thing but whom I trusted, that the UN was wrong and we knew better. The biggest problem I had with the Obama candidacy was that he ran strongly on the fact that he too voted against the Iraq war. I guess it is possible that these people are super geniuses or fantastically more prescient than almost everyone else, but then I’ve heard here at TAC, that almost every contributor here was also well aware that there were no WMD’s and were against preemption from the start. Let me clear my throat. Now, I’ll give that ole fella the credit for knowing something that I only learned in hindsight after realizing that republican leadership can lie, cost trillions and tens of thousands of lives and still have a strong enough constituency drawn from their cultivated vegetable garden, to remain a viable political party after the monumental disasters of preemptive war, tax cuts during expensive preemptive war, and de-regulation of the market and banks while ignoring all those annoying warnings about the whole shadow market derivative things; but, what is it that Chafee does stand for now? I am so tired of listening to candidates run on what the other guys do or say while never having to step up and explain how they would and could do things so much better. I’m going to get us out of iraq, I’m going to get a system where everybody will have health care, I’m going to address the environmental concerns and especially global warming, I’m going to address immigration and in the meantime deport more illegals than all my predecessors, and I’m going to normalize relations with cuba. So, how exactly does a guy like that have a chance against, I’m going to build the keystone pipeline, kiss israeli ars and keep jabbing a very angry finger at Iran. Oh yeah, he isn’t running. Hey, somebody tell the republican candidates they are running against Hillary, not Obama. They should be gleeful, even if just gleeful clowns.

#18 Comment By balconesfault On April 28, 2015 @ 10:20 am

@Francis John, very few understand or care to understand the Resolution’s details.

Yes to this.

The followup by many that Hillary’s term as Sec State hardly screams “non-interventionist” is certainly true …

As I’ve noted before, this country’s elections are wired to support interventionists, and Hillary has hardly shown the courage or even inclination to buck this much.

But the AUMF vote was in many Congressional minds a vote to give Bush a tool to force Saddam to allow open inspections … that he would ignore that principle and decide to invade even as Saddam allowed open inspections and turned over copious records (which Cheney called rubbish because they didn’t demonstrate Iraq’s ongoing WMD programs) was certainly forseeable, but it basically required being willing to call the sitting President untrustworthy on our anti-terrorism policies at a time when most Americans were quaking in their boots still over the worry that the Terror-ometer might suddenly switch from orange to red.

Alas, Hillary is not going to be a bold leader. But given the type of bold leadership that just about every GOP candidate is trying to exhibit (which seems to stuck within a range from the John McCain “here’s a list of reasons why we should go kill people” to the Sarah Palin “heeyyy yaaa! Let’s go kill people!”) I’m almost certainly going to end up voting for her in 2016.

#19 Comment By Jerry McKenzie On April 28, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

I urge him to do it. He’ll have my vote.

#20 Comment By Mr. Libertarian On April 28, 2015 @ 1:40 pm

@Tzx4

There is zero indication that Hillary Clinton has learned anything from Iraq or for that matter, Libya, Afghanistan Benghazi, Syria, Russia or her other foreign policy misfires on foreign policy. Hard Choices was potboiler devoid of insightful content. This has been widely discussed.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 28, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

” (“aka “Party of Peace”) primaries. Funny how folks here excoriate Hillary morning noon and night for her Iraq AUMF vote, and her other hawkish actions and views, while the opposition party (the real one, not the one that TAC Republicans would like it to be), has one guy, maybe, who is, at best, arguably sorta more of a dove than Hillary, and a half dozen guys who are more hawkish than her, running for President.”

but if accountability to one’s own position matters. none of them have blamed anyone else for their views.

Sec Hillary Clinton has consistent pointed the finger at others, who she was dependent. So not only does she want a shortcut to the Wh. She doesn’t want to held accountable for her own choices, which by here reckoning suggests,

“The men made me do it.”

“(“aka “Party of Peace”)” laughing. Yeah, that party.

In the instances of Iraq and Afghanistan, there was plenty of information that challenged a case for war. Most importantly, was the information that was there.

#22 Comment By Rich Broderick On April 29, 2015 @ 12:58 am

Whether Chafee is a serious contender or not, his statement about disqualification is correct. She, and every other Democratic Senator who voted for the AUMF, should be barred from future political office and spend the rest of their lives doing penance.

As far as what she’s learned, I seem to recall that, as Secretary of State, she was obliquely critical of Obama for not taking bolder leadership in toppling Gaddafi. The 900 to 1000 refugees who drowned last week off the coast of Libya are part of her legacy, too.

#23 Comment By Mr. Libertarian On April 29, 2015 @ 11:50 pm

I will say this again, even though I’m often censored, because I hit hard, even though socialists get to say whatever they want on economic issues, and write endless apologies for Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is on the left, no doubt, but she is an opportunist. She has voted for the Iraq War. Former Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that Hillary Clinton is an opportunist. She goad Bill Clinton into the Balkans War, which was the impetus for the fake, phony 2000 promise by George W. Bush that he support a “more humble foreign policy”, and he lied and delivered the exact diametrical opposite of that. That’s what he did. He lied! And Hillary Clinton goaded Obama into the Libya disaster, which was another expensive mistake that cost America money, money we cannot afford, and I presciently told others at the time that that was a mistake and I was correct. Hillary Clinton would not be a DLC moderate, triangulator, and would not compromise with the GOP like Bill did. But there would be more war. And progressive Democrats, who support liberal interventionism, which by the way is what Obama thinks, see e.g. Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. That’s what the voters wanted, out of the wars. He was willing to crater his presidency on other issues, so the compromise argument does not work. Wilson, was a liberal interventionist. Truman did Korea. Then there’s LBJ in Vietnam. It might be fine to back a social democrat if there is a going to be very strict policy of non-intervention, but that’s never going to happen. Likewise, it was okay to back a social conservative, if they promise to hold the line on spending, but that never, ever happened. Hence, why the garden variety arguments seem very stale to me, from both left and right.

#24 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 30, 2015 @ 1:11 am

“but if accountability to one’s own position matters. none of them have blamed anyone else for their views.”

LOL! So the “Party of Peace” warmongers are better than Hillary because they not only have no excuse to present for their Iraq AUMF votes (or for the rest of their warmongering, which actually manages to exceed hers), but have not even admitted that they were wrong at all!

Not seeing it.