11 Questions for Lincoln Chafee: The Democrat Who Thinks Hillary Clinton Shouldn't Be President (and Might Run Against Her)

Could this underdog gain traction as an anti-war candidate?

ByABC News
May 21, 2015, 12:49 PM
Lincoln Chafee is seen here in this Dec. 11, 2014 file photo.
Lincoln Chafee is seen here in this Dec. 11, 2014 file photo.
Steven Senne/AP Photo

— -- But really, who is Lincoln Chafee?

If you haven’t heard of former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, you’re probably not alone. The little-known Republican turned Independent turned Democrat recently announced that he might run for president, and he’s already making headlines.

Chafee was elected as mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island, in 1992 and re-elected three times. He served a term in the U.S. Senate before being elected governor in 2010. While in the Senate, he was famously the only Republican to vote against the war in Iraq. Now, he may be the only Democrat already taking swipes at 2016 democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He says Clinton’s vote in the Senate authorizing the Iraq war “disqualifies” her from becoming president.

Could this relatively unknown underdog from a tiny state gain traction as an anti-war candidate? As he continues to explore a run for the White House, ABC News spoke with Chafee this week. Here’s what he told us, edited for length:

Are you running for president?

“I hope to make an announcement before mid-June and certainly I am leaning very heavily in that direction.”

Tell us about your decision back in 2002 to vote against the war?

“With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had a moment in time there before Sept. 11 where we really were looking at a peaceful world. So when Sept. 11 occurred, I thought we have to make really good decisions now and not jeopardize this possibility of handing to our children a peaceful world. So when they started talking about going into war in Iraq, I had my concerns about the reasons and were they accurate about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction?"

"I went to the CIA and asked them for a full briefing, and what I learned was there was really no intelligence that supported the rush to war based on weapons of mass destruction. So, when you hear these candidates talk about basing their decisions on faulty intelligence that is completely inaccurate. There was never any intelligence at all, never mind faulty intelligence. It was all rhetoric about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Hillary Clinton has said her vote was a mistake. Aren’t people allowed to make mistakes?

“The magnitude of this mistake is just so enormous. Not only in the 4,000 dead Americans -- over 4,000 dead Americans -- but now it is going to cost us $6 trillion. And it’s a loss of American credibility. And the ramifications that we live with today with ISIS: what’s happening in Syria, what’s happening in Yemen, what’s happening in Libya, what’s happening in Nigeria with Boko Haram. The chaos that has spread through the region based on this mistake. Absolutely in my view it is a disqualifier to be president.”

What disqualifies her from being president -- specifically?

“The line is the moment in American history where we had to make good decisions and those of us that were saying, 'Let's let the inspectors do their work in Iraq, let’s go slowly,' were on the right side. Those that rushed to war were on the wrong side and we are paying for that mistake not only, sadly, with lost American lives, but in so many ways. It was a huge, huge mistake. I would argue one of the biggest in American history.”

You recently said that your “high ethical standards” differentiated you from Clinton, too. What did you mean by that?

“It’s a long list of ethical misjudgments on behalf of Mrs. Clinton starting back from her time as First Lady and the Rose Law Firm records that were lost and then found. It just seems to never stop. Now, as Secretary of State, the email servers and the Clinton Foundation ... it is just a long litany of ethical missteps in my view. And the American people support what I am saying. All of the polls show that there is a lack of trust with Secretary Clinton.”

You have also cited a New York Times op-ed talking about the people Secretary Clinton might theoretically chose as advisers. Do you see that as another place you differentiate yourself from her?

“Absolutely. Ever since I announced I was exploring a run for president I have talked about her hawkish approach to the world ... based on that same unilateralism, muscular approach that I have compared to the 'neocons.' Yes, it a huge a difference between her and I and our approach to the world. Her approach to Iran as to the secretary of state, her approach to Syria, Libya, Russia, Venezuela, it is all very close to the 'neocon' approach: muscular, unilateral. I don’t think that is in our long-term best interest. We need a new approach.”

How would you characterize your approach?

“It is strong alliances and building trust and credibility with other nations around the world.”

You have also accused her of flip-flopping -- what issues do you think she has flip-flopped on?

“Well certainly, immigration. She is getting a lot of credit for coming out in favor of the Dream Act and the path to citizenship for undocumented Americans. But there was a bill when we were both in the Senate, introduced by John McCain from Arizona and Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts: ‘The McCain-Kennedy Path to Citizenship.’ There were only nine of us in the Senate that then signed on as co-sponsors and I am one of the nine. I sure would have liked to have had her help back then in 2005. Certainly, gay marriage. I have been an early supporter, a consistent supporter of marriage equality. So, whether it is flip-flop or coming late to the issue, I think it’s very similar.”

You were a Republican, then an Independent, then a Democrat, so why should Democrats across the country trust you?

“That’s a fair questions and I would answer: look at my record. It has been very, very consistent whether it is on fiscal responsibility, or an approach to the environment, or an approach to civil liberties, or an approach to building our middle class. I have a very, very consistent record on all of these issues. It used to be there was a home in the Republican Party for those philosophies ... but there became less of an opportunity for those of us with those views to stay in the Republican Party. We were primaried -- as I was -- because of those views, and so I became an Independent and I never changed my views, and then I became a Democrat where I believe is my home and the best fit for those issues.”

Even you would have to admit that you’re starting off with a pretty big deficit in name recognition across the country -- how will you break through?

“It’s a long path to the nomination. It is a long path between here in May until Iowa and New Hampshire when the primaries start and the caucuses start. I think my issues align with the Democratic Party and we will be debating those issues. We know that those that are going to be voting in the primaries and the caucuses are going to be listening. I think they are going to like the answers to the questions they ask when I give them.”

What is the one thing you would want every voter to know about you?

“My judgment. I think that’s what people want from their leader, especially in times of high pressure. Americans can look at my record: making decisions and showing good judgment in times of high pressure over and over again, and making the right call.”