PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Monday the turmoil in the Middle East in recent days spurred him to pull the trigger on a bid for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, as he criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for voting in favor of the Iraq war in 2002.
“I just don’t think a candidate that participated in the biggest mistake in American history should continue in office,” Chafee told WPRI 12 in a phone interview from Wyoming, where he and his wife now make their home.
“The escalation which is occurring now just magnifies that mistake that was made then, and I believe that the people who were right all along should be the ones that get us out of this quagmire,” Chafee said. The comments echoed his criticism of Hillary Clinton, who also voted for the Iraq war in 2002, when Chafee challenged her for the Democratic nomination in 2016.
Chafee has scheduled a speech for Wednesday morning at the National Press Club in Washington, where he is expected to formally kick off his campaign. He filed paperwork Sunday night creating a Lincoln Chafee for President committee.
Democrats have expressed concern that a third-party candidate could siphon votes away from their party’s eventual nominee in key states, helping President Trump win another term. But Chafee gave no indication that is part of his calculus.
“These issues are too important,” he said. “The Democrats and Republicans have been terrible on the wars. They’ve continued through Obama and Biden — eight years of Obama and Biden — civil liberties, whether it’s drone strikes, torture, warrant-less surveillance, extraordinary renditions, which is kidnappings — these all continue under Obama-Biden.”
Chafee’s criticism of the last Democratic administration — he also touched on the rising national debt — is striking in part because he served as a national co-chair of the 2012 Obama-Biden re-election campaign. Asked whether taking that position had been a mistake, Chafee argued he was like many other disappointed Obama supporters.
“I don’t have any regrets,” he said.
Chafee said he decided to get involved after registering as a member of the Libertarian Party last March. “As things turned out, the possibility existed that even someone new to the party might have an opportunity to be the nominee,” he said.
The former Republican senator and Democratic governor admitted he’s received a “mixed” reception from Libertarian Party activists in recent months due to philosophical differences on some issues, though he insisted he was aligned with the party on “the vast majority” of policies.
One issue that could pose a challenge for Chafee is gun rights, as someone who received an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association.
“Over time the American people have, I believe, become more and more distrustful of government,” he said, attributing that in part to the Iraq war. “The Framers of the Constitution wrote the Second Amendment for the time when people have the distrust of government. Even in Rhode Island, you see more and more advocacy for Second Amendment rights.”
As for whether Chafee really expects to be in the White House come January 2021, he said, “I’m not naive about the success of third parties in American history, and most recent history especially — but whoever thought that Donald J. Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office?”
“If there was every a time for a third party it would be 2020 in my view,” he added. “And I’ve been around politics a long time.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook