A “Renaissance man” is one who can do all things. One who has been to many places, one who has “done the do.” And perhaps no one embodies the meaning of a political Renaissance man better than Lincoln Chafee. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Chafee has held office as a Republican, independent, and Democrat. He has served as a Senator and as a Governor. He ran for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 2016. In March of this year, Chafee registered with the Libertarian Party after moving from Rhode Island to Wyoming. He described the move out west as “a new adventure.”
Chafee’s unusual political background and breadth of experience provide a refreshing take on moderate libertarianism. Most moderate libertarians lived as a Republican in their most recent political past-life (e.g., Bill Weld and Gary Johnson), which I believe creates some blind spots for them when trying to appeal to Democratic voters. While Chafee was a Republican in the past, he left the party in 2007, choosing to be independent. And in 2010, he won the Rhode Island gubernatorial election quite handily. It wasn’t until 2013 that Chafee switched from being independent to being a Democrat. He became most well-known in 2016, where he unsuccessfully ran for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. Now, after joining the Libertarian Party, he is considering running for president on the Libertarian platform.
Some may see this history and believe Chafee is a man who is wishy-washy, neither hot nor cold, a man who cannot find his sense of identity in an ever polarized political climate. I cannot say that I believe this to be a faithful characterization. In a report put out by the Boston Globe back in June, Chafee stated that he has “always been” a libertarian, “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” And, as I hope to show in this article, we should believe him. Let’s start by taking a look at his term as Governor of Rhode Island.
Stepping into office during one of the worst recessions in decades—and being Governor of a largely Democratic state—it should come as no surprise that Chafee did some not-so-libertarian things. But let’s focus on what he got right because I believe that taking this focus will reveal the unvarnished political outlook of Chafee. To start, he moved from having a fiscal policy grade of D by the Cato Institute in 2012, to a B at the end of his term in 2014. In justifying their grade for Chafee in 2014, they wrote the following:
Governor Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator who is now a Democrat, has increased spending roughly in line with the national average. He has long sought to cut the corporate income tax rate, and in 2013 he signed into law a cut from 9 to 7 percent by 2015. This cut was combined with a broadening of the corporate tax base. Chafee also signed into law a repeal of the franchise tax and a reduction in the estate tax.
As well, his public statements regarding fiscal responsibility have to resonate with libertarians as a whole, stating that one of the main reasons that he left the Republican Party was because they “abandoned fiscal responsibility.” But it should be noted that, unlike most libertarians, he doesn’t appear to be afraid of utilizing tax increases to help reduce the deficit. That being said, he isn’t a perfect libertarian by any means. He doesn’t have a stellar record when it comes to the 2nd amendment and school choice, which makes sense considering his unorthodox background, coming from the Democratic Party. However, when it comes to other issues, such as LGBTQ rights, drug use, capital punishment, and pacifism, Chafee is among the best of the Libertarian Party. In an interview, while discussing the possibility of running for president as a Libertarian, he described himself as “very motivated as an anti-war American, and also by the deficit.”
He has received encouragement from top party personalities such as Larry Sharpe and even the Chairman of the Libertarian Party, Nicholas Sarwark. All in all, Lincoln Chafee is a solid moderate libertarian that has government and campaigning experience. Regardless of whether or not he runs as president under the Libertarian banner, he is a great addition to The Party of Principle.
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