Lincoln Chafee

Lincoln Chafee Quits Race for Libertarian Party Presidential Nomination

Coronavirus didn't help, but Chafee was already disappointed his anti-war message wasn't more resonant with the Libertarian establishment.


Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator and independent governor from Rhode Island who ran for president in the 2016 cycle as a Democrat, had been seeking the Libertarian Party (L.P.) presidential mantle this year. He announced Sunday that he was ending his campaign.

"This adventure obviously changed with the frightening corona virus outbreak even as our campaign made a successful transfer to virtual connections via social media," Chafee wrote in that post.

But in a phone interview yesterday, Chafee granted that "to be honest, I wasn't getting good traction even before coronavirus, so that was just one more factor."

The virus also made Chafee think it likely the L.P. will ultimately choose to nix an in-person convention to select their presidential nominee; that was another sign he'd better pull out, Chafee says. He believed he'd have more of a fighting chance were he sure he'd have the chance to talk to and meet the entire delegate body assembled before their vote in May.

Chafee found on the campaign trail that many Libertarians didn't want to continue the experiment of nominating party newcomers with executive experience outside the L.P. itself, such as 2016's Gary Johnson and William Weld ticket (despite how historically well they did, pulling nearly 4.5 million votes and well over 3 percent nationally).

"I'd hear from delegates that 'we tried that model and still didn't win states or make the debates,'" Chafee said, noting that party activists seemed to be more interested in long-term party loyalists.

Chafee had not been setting the L.P. field afire in fundraising or in apparent delegate or voter support. (As of the start of March, the Federal Election Commission reports his campaign as having raised around $62,000.)

Chafee launched his campaign four months ago, under a banner of "No More Wars. No More Reckless Spending." He acknowledged in an interview then that while a latecomer to L.P. membership, he believed he could win party love since "on the big issues I've been very consistently anti-war, anti-deficit, [and] strongly in favor of civil liberties."

Chafee sounded slightly disappointed that he perceived a "Libertarian establishment" that wasn't sufficiently supportive of his anti-war campaign. "They didn't rally around and frankly I came to understand, I think, that [many in the L.P.] pay lip service" to the anti-war cause but don't value it the most highly. (For now, many of those who most highly value the anti-war stance seem inclined toward Jacob Hornberger.)

"It's where my strongest bona fides are," he said, with his "clear record of being right and being in the minority and taking heat for it. I was only in 23 out of 100 and I was the only Republican" to vote against the Iraq War in the Senate. Chafee thought that would win him enough points that he wouldn't be seen as insufficiently radical where it mattered most for the party. But he felt he was hearing a "deafening silence" from party powers when it came to getting behind him.

Chafee knows his past of not being sufficiently libertarian on the Second Amendment earned him many enemies in the L.P. who seemed concerned with nothing else. Though he's never been a gun rights activist, he mentioned "I did my best—with all sincerity also!—to say I would protect the Second Amendment" but suspected many didn't believe him.

"I did have high hopes about getting into presidential debates," Chafee admitted. He thinks the major party candidates may prove even more polarizing than in 2016, and saw "potential for the progressives to split off from the Democrats" if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the nomination. He thinks he has appeal since he "overlap[s] with progressives on gay rights, pro-choice, anti-capital punishment—and [being] anti-war, of course." Chafee has also previously said that "a strongly open-borders approach to immigration" could attract newer audiences to the L.P.

Chafee did not say he was formally endorsing any other candidate, and stressed that while he had had no discussions with her about any of this, he suggested in a major party field of two old white men that the L.P. might want to take a good look at Jo Jorgensen, "a party loyalist no doubt." Jorgensen is a senior lecturer in psychology at Clemson University and was the L.P.'s vice presidential nominee in 1996.

While Chafee did not authoritatively state he'd take another swing at the Libertarian presidential crown down the line, he hinted at it strongly. "I am a glutton for punishment," he said. "I do enjoy campaigning, and I've done it for so many years with some success and I do enjoy it."

NEXT: Trump Was Warned in January and February That Covid-19 Could Kill Millions, Cost Trillions

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  1. Poor boy. He thought anti-voluntary-war was so unusual in the L.P. that he would stand out as a political freak and fit right in like nobody’s business.

    Libertarians have been pushing against the establishment for years and decades. Did he expect to become the instant favorite just for deigning to call himself a Libertarian for a few months?

    Gosh what a shame he’s ruined his non-L.P. political future now that he’s tainted with the L.P. He and Weld should team up for 2024.

    1. He has no political future of any kind at this point. He’s an obvious tool obsessed with running for public office. Let this jackass go earn a real living for a change.

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  2. This year is make-or-break for LP. I haven’t been big-L for long enough to really know what LP ‘wants’ from Prez nominees. Winning the election or even states is like counting to five before lobbing the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch at the Rabbit of Caerbannog.

    So what does LP want? To expand the base of either voters or lower-level bench candidates (which BTW can be ‘proven’ well before nomination)? Or to please the existing LP base in order to GOTV?

    1. What makes this year so special? You think Libertarians will just fold the tent and go home if they don’t win the White House and both houses this year?

      Please enlighten us as only you can.

      1. This is the first election year in a long long time where one might expect a serious and unexpected issue to override the usual partisan DeRp. That is precisely when third parties can cut through the usual BS agenda setting (lesser evil) by the duopoly and make their own case.

        2008 crisis was too close to the election itself – 9/11 didn’t have an election for years – the Berlin Wall and end of Cold War didn’t either. Can’t think of another election where the agenda hasn’t just been watered down to fit standard DeRp objectives/PR.

        No third party ever survives its first failure to be serious when that is exactly what voters want. Does that mean LP will fold its tent and go home if it chooses the second option of pleasing the LP base to GOTV? No. But it means that it will never become more than a 0.5% irrelevancy – and it is very possible that it will split in two and start to lose ballot access.

        1. Well, at least you put in the appearance of having tried. That will fool some of the rubes some of the time.

  3. So he is a republican, and a democrat, and now a libertarian, and wonders why no one believes his sincerely held principles?

    1. He stood firm like a rock while the parties kept changing around him!

      Now I just have to work on saying that line without giggling.

      1. And it really helps that he’s buddies with people like Bill Maher.

    2. It would be kinda cool to see a actual Libertarian, run on an actual platform for the Libertarian party.

      1. It would be cool if we had a legitimate platform for classical liberalism instead of the goat rodeo that is the LP.

      2. Who’s going to run on
        1. Open borders
        2. One way “free” trade
        3. Everyone gets out of jail
        4. Mandatory streetwalkers
        And the social stuff they push, gay marriage, trannyism, come back to bite them on the ass when the government goes after people who object. It’s why you get people like Barr and Weld running LP.

    3. So he is a republican, and a democrat, and now a libertarian

      And a floor wax, and a dessert topping!

    4. C’mon.. Johnson is/was also an opportunist. I miss Ron Paul.

  4. Yup, libertarians are just too pro-war for this angelic man ….

  5. “I did my best—with all sincerity also!—to say I would protect the Second Amendment”

    Shades of you-know-who.

  6. “He believed he’d have more of a fighting chance were he sure he’d have the chance to talk to and meet the entire delegate body assembled before their vote in May.”

    To be sure, the Coronavirus is a bad thing, but one good side-effect is that it will limit Chafee’s back-slapping and handshaking.

    So I guess it’s back to Goodwill for him, along with the other discarded Republican pols.

    1. Goodwill is closed. He will have to go to the attic and hope they reopen before the bats get him

  7. I don’t agree with Hornberger across the board, but he’s clearly the best candidate in the field, so I’m only left to surmise that Reason won’t give him any real attention because they have an ax to grind with the Mises caucus, Ron Paul, Jeff Deist, Tom Woods, Lew Rockwell, etc.

    1. In fairness, Lew Rockwell is a terrible person. But I think the axe goes the other way, personally – the Mises guys absolutely hate the moderate libertarians, a lot more than they hate the duopoly even.

      I’m not sure that Hornberger is really the Mises torch bearer in the field, though – I think Dan Behrman is probably closer to their positions, overall. I like this current field, this year, though – especially now that Chafee dropped out. There’s a fair bit of ideological diversity, but nobody seems to be afraid of taking libertarian positions on issues, which is why Chafee was pretty much a nonstarter from the get-go.

  8. Nolan’s original case for forming a Libertarian Party implied that it would be effective by becoming a balance of power, thus causing the old parties to adopt some libertarian ideas. Since Day One, there have been two factions (at least two) fighting over whether to be “pure” or whether to be “practical.” The pendulum swings back and forth, but LP membership has plateaued and in most elections falls far short of being a true balance of power. The LP needs to find out what strategy will get more voter eyeballs looking at, and accepting, libertarian positions. I find it hard to believe that will happen with any candidate that doesn’t show some sense of reality.

    1. The Dems and Reps disagree on some fairly key issues like guns and abortion, but when it comes to spending like inebriated naval personnel (worse, really, because I don’t want to insult sailors here), the parties are in basic agreement. Likewise with war. Offering a Golden Mean between the rival parties seems like a difficult proposition in these circumstances.

      1. And the closer the two parties get, the more vitriolic their spats, and the less anybody is interested in a real alternative. It’s like high school elections, or school boards; the stakes being so tiny seems to bring out the worst in people.

        The Deep State is the winner every time.

        1. And yet – Z’s and millennials and even X’ers to a slight degree are increasingly registered as independent and keeping that separation as they get older. Those partisan disputes are increasingly two old couples loudly arguing with each other to get off my lawn – while they maintain a complete stranglehold over power, money, and governance.

          Coronavirus and all its impacts is precisely the sort of issue that can cleave along generational lines. Those younger generations now have the votes to actually win. They obviously won’t in 2020. But this is the year when an alternative that has either ballot access or attention can lay the groundwork for a 2024 realignment.

          1. Not sure about the young’uns true beliefs, but my kids register independent (no party affiliation) just to get off the junk mail lists from the dems and repubs.

            1. Funny – when I was a newly minted voter, I usually registered with one of the big two (whichever predominated in my state) so I could vote in the primaries. These days, I just register LP.

    2. The 1972 platform showed a sense of reality, wrote the Roe v Wade decision and slapped duct tape over every piehole belching about the need for press-gang conscription. Sockpuppets have to put a lot of effort into not understanding how a 2% spoiler vote injected the Communist Manifesto income tax and killed thousands and wrecked the economy with the Ban Beer Amendment. The LP is reversing those errors and increasing 80% per annum. Voters like that, and kleptocracy sockpuppets can drink drano for all we care.

  9. If Chafew ever had a shot, it was lost wheld endorsed Clinton. They’re just too similar.

    1. When Weld

      1. Don’t forget Chafew, I don’t know what that means either 🙂

  10. “disappointed his anti-war message wasn’t more resonant”

    “Chafee has also previously said that ‘a strongly open-borders approach to immigration’ could attract newer audiences to the L.P.”

    True libertarians prioritize #ImmigrationAboveAll. That should have been his focus, not appealing to the crowd.

    Although it hardly matters now. Who needs a Libertarian Party when the Democratic Party agrees with us on our fundamental, non-negotiable issue?


    1. Wow. I’m a libertarian and I’m okay with legal immigration but the D votes are about illegal immigration in a welfare state. #NoBidenforme

  11. Women and minorities
    Journos Hardest Hit

    1. Real journos can fake it from home even easier. They even made a documentary on the practice.

  12. Great now I have to decide whether to remove the Chafee bumper sticker I put on my car last week or keep it on and look like an idiot.

  13. Can we get Bloomberg to run as a Libertarian next? I heard Gillespie likes him except for the gun control. With a ringing endorsement like that, who could say no.

    1. “The restaurant is perfectly healthy except for the rats”

    2. Reason writers don’t seem to care that much about the second amendment. At least not as much as they should. Gun control is occupational-licensing-bad, not well-here-come-the-gulags-bad.

      1. *gun control for them

        1. No reason cares far more about occupational licensing than gun rights.

    3. Please just no. I’m hoping all of you are facetious because I’m feeling like I’m talking to Democrats on this site

      1. Open Borders Liberal-tarian is a long-running parody account, and DH here is taking a shot at a pro-Bloomberg piece that ran on this site under Gillespie’s byline a couple months ago.

  14. many Libertarians didn’t want to continue the experiment of nominating party newcomers with executive experience outside the L.P. itself

    Are there any non-newcomers within the LP that actually have executive experience though?

    1. Let’s total up the number of elections the LP has ever won and the question really answers itself, don’t ya think?

      I don’t think that experience is the asset that it’s been claimed to be these days, though. Lately your record just seems to be a length of rope your opponents can use to hang you.

  15. LP members aren’t stupid. As flawed as Gary was, he had a real track record of limited government and he advocated for it even when he was on the Republican debate stage. He was a libertarian running as a Republican, and it was obvious in his platform and answers.

    Chafee was up there on stage while Bernie Sanders shouted about Medicare for All, and said nothing. Indeed, I watched every single debate of that 2016 primary, and the idea that Chafee believed himself to be even slightly libertarian was a complete surprise to me. He showed nothing of his views in the Democratic primary besides that he was a typical Northeastern politician: a malleable party flipping opportunist.

    1. Even Weld was billed as a Libertarian before he actually went into the crucible of LP politics – and was found wanting.

  16. the crucible of LP politics

    Ah yes. The crucible that no one can even agree on what temperature is needed to calcine the raw ore for fear that such a decision might violate NAP.

    1. OK, I’ll change that to the crucible of being an LP candidate in a national Presidential election.

  17. Nuts. Now Nick will be forced to pull the lever for Biden or write in Shecky Dullmia.

  18. Good bye statist.

  19. Good! This dude isn’t even remotely Libertarian!! The LP needs to stop begging for scraps from the 2 party table.

  20. The so called Libertarian Party has been trying to get attention for years. Their latest ploy was to use former Republicans in a bid for some kind of vote. Of course that didn’t work although Gay Jay did get more than any one before him. Still it’s worth noting that the party of principle can’t even get reason writers to vote for them. I mean this place is basically a hive of post modern left wingers who couldn’t get hired at the New Republic or The Nation. So no surprise and I bet most of those employed here voted for Clinton.

    1. It worked just fine. With 4.5 million votes we were able to shift 109 electoral votes in 13 states. That’s enough to get rid of a dozen race-suicide fascists and as many soviet socialist communists. LP spoiler votes are THE unambiguous message that changes bad laws. Our business is increasing freedom, not gubmint hiring.

  21. 1. There is a difference between anti-war and pro-surrender.
    2. The Second Amendment also applies to individual States being able to defend against incoming weapons–chemical, biological, nuclear, whatever. Non-aggression means not invading others and starting wars. It does not mean we cannot retaliate against attackers and their weapons. Gary with Weld were OK for the top federal slot, and our increasing vote slice means people are appreciating the platform–to the extent it is not sabotaged.

    1. The LP should nominate an actual libertarian one of these days.

      1. They have, historically. They’ve only recently flirted with the strategy of trying to use some washed-up republicans with some name recognition to elevate their profile, but the party members have found those candidates so underwhelming it looks like they’ll return to form this year.

  22. Who is this guy?

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