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Horowitz: It’s Time for Chafee to Get Serious or Get Out

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

 

Rob Horowitz

Lincoln Chafee’s dismal performance in last week’s Democratic Presidential candidates’ debate—the first of six scheduled--was so telling because it was not mainly  a result of his not up to the standards of a Presidential candidate debating chops. It was, unfortunately, an all too accurate reflection of a candidacy that has yet to display any discernible depth or seriousness.
 
Although he declared his candidacy for President more than 6 months ago, Chafee has still not developed a compelling rationale—one that goes beyond his 2002 vote against authorizing military action in Iraq. Comparing his judgment as the only Republican to oppose military action in Iraq to Hillary Clinton’s vote for the use of force could be a powerful entry point for Chafee, if he backs it up with a vision, fleshed-out by  specific proposals, presenting a cogent case for the different way he would conduct American foreign policy.
 
This is work he is either incapable of or simply hasn’t done. Instead, since the Iraq vote is the only arrow in his quiver, he greatly overplays his hand, arguing that this one vote by itself should disqualify Hillary Clinton from being President. (By that standard Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry should also be disqualified from the Oval Office.) At last week's debate, this left Chafee wide open to Hillary Clinton’s powerful rejoinder that despite her vote, President Obama trusted her judgment sufficiently to appoint her as Secretary of State.
 
Even more problematic for Chafee, if you are going to say that one vote--- no matter how important by itself--- should disqualify someone from the Presidency,  then you better be prepared to defend all of your votes. Chafee’s ‘my dog ate my homework’ answer to why he voted to repeal Glass-Steagal, which removed the wall between commercial and investment banking, showed how woefully unprepared he was to do just that.  I, along with many other commentators, believe that it was one of the worst answers in Presidential debate history.
 
Chafee also sounds silly when he speculates as he did to Tom Mooney in Sunday’s Providence Journal that he isn’t getting his fair share of debate time or media coverage because the ‘established media’ doesn’t want to hear from an anti-war candidate.  Bernie Sanders was just as opposed to the Iraq War as Chafee and has similar, but much more articulately expressed, foreign policy views. That sure hasn’t stopped Sanders from gaining media attention.. The fact that Chafee is at less than one percent in the polls and has little or nothing of substance about today’s challenges to say are the primary reasons he is struggling to get any media attention.
 
It is fine to critique your opponents. That is certainly a key part of any campaign. But Presidential candidates, who win or at least inject their ideas into the national conversation, provide a road map of what they plan to do as President. This often includes substantive and detailed proposals. So far, Chafee has failed to do so. Don’t take my word for it, go to his web site and click on the paper thin policy section.
 
 It is time for Chafee to get serious or get out. Right now, he is accomplishing little more than providing material for late night comedians. There is a well-marked path to emerging as a plausible Presidential candidate, and even in today’s world of media sound bites and Donald Trump, for someone like Chafee, it ironically lies in doing the homework and thinking it takes to outline compelling plans for your Presidency. If after the jarring wake-up call he received in last week’s debate, Lincoln Chafee continues to fail this basic test; he will continue to be a punch line and not much else. And I am sorry to say he will be getting just what he deserves.
 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

Related Slideshow: The 2016 President Candidates Ranked by Absurdity

InsideGov ranked the levels of absurdity for each candidate by these four criteria:

  • A consistently low 2015 polling average: consistently low poll numbers make campaigns more superfluous, and thus, more absurd
  • Extreme ideologies: candidates with extreme views—whether way to the left or way to the right—tend to be less viable, and thus, more ridiculous
  • Little-to-no years of elected office or active-duty military experience: inexperienced and unproven, these candidates are more prone to absurdity
  • Multiple attempts at the presidency: the more attempts, the less serious the candidate becomes

Prev Next

#21

Candidate: Scott Walker 

Absurdity Index: 37.1 (very low)

What InsideGov said

He might be the most boring candidate in the race, but he’s also the least ridiculous. The Governor of Wisconsin has 22 years of elected experience and consistently solid polling numbers for 2016.

While he leans more conservative than average, he takes few truly extreme positions. He’s the most reasonable candidate in the entire field, by InsideGov’s metrics.

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#20

Candidate: Martin O'Malley

Absurdity Index: 39.4

What InsideGov said

By InsideGov’s calculations, the former Governor of Maryland is the most moderate Democrat in the field, and among the five most moderate candidates overall.

Even if he never gains traction against the mighty Clinton machine, we can expect O’Malley to add a measured, level-headed perspective to the Democratic primaries.

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#19

Candidate: Chris Christie

Absurdity Index: 39.7

What InsideGov said

While the Governor of New Jersey gets a bad rap for his bluster and blunt statements, the data suggests he’s one of the more reasonable candidates, on the whole. He’s moderate across almost every issue, and he's still alive in the polls.

“Bridgegate” might ultimately doom him, but his decision not to run for president in 2012 was classic, sensible Christie.

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#18

Candidate: Hillary Clinton

Absurdity Index: 40.6

What InsideGov said

Clinton scores a few absurdity points across several categories: she’s only served eight years of elected office*, has run for president before, and is more liberal than all but one competitor. Still, her historically dominant position in the polls (nearly 50 points above her nearest challenger) means we have to take the former New York Senator seriously. In the position she’s in, it would be ridiculous for hernot to run.

*For our purposes, her terms as First Lady and Secretary of State do not count toward her total, because she was not elected to those positions.

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#17

Candidate: Jeb Bush

Absurdity Index: 40.8

What InsideGov said

Some might say that three Bushes in three decades is absurd, but by our numbers, Jeb Bush is among the most sensible of the candidates. He consistently polls at the top of the GOP field, holds more moderate positions than most of his opponents and seems to have waited for the perfect time to run.

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#16

Candidate: Lincoln Chafee

Absurdity Index: 43.0

What InsideGov said

The recent Democratic Party-convert holds moderate views and boasts 24 years of elected experience—enough to make him a logical candidate for the 2016 race. Only his extremely low polling numbers, which suggest that his candidacy will be irrelevant, bump him a few spots up this list.

Prev Next

#15

Candidate: Bernie Sanders

Absurdity Index: 43.5

What InsideGov said

The most liberal candidate in the field, Bernie Sanders will likely add a far-left voice to the Democratic primaries. That said, his decent polling numbers and 34 years of elected experience suggest he deserves to be in the conversation, regardless of his ideology.

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#14

Candidate: Marco Rubio

Absurdity Index: 45.2

What InsideGov said: 

The Tea Party star turned respected Florida Senator boasts 15 years of experience and a solid polling average. Rubio’s sole weakness might be his strong conservative streak, which will make him less palatable in the general election. Only Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz hold viewpoints further to the right.

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#13

Candidate: Lindsey Graham

Absurdity Index: 45.8

What InsideGov said

The South Carolina Senator has all the experience you’d ever want in a president: 22 years of elected service, another dozen of active-duty military service. Still, Graham’s abysmal polling numbers suggest he has no business in an already crowded field.

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#12

Candidate: Jim Webb

Absurdity Index: 45.8

What InsideGov said

Similar to Graham, Jim Webb brings a combination of government and military service to the table, an attractive résumé that would seem to appeal to liberal and conservative voters alike. And while he doesn’t have quite as much total experience as Graham, Webb’s moderate ideology scores would make him a compelling general election contender. That said, Webb is so far behind Clinton in the polls that his candidacy likely won't last.

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#11

Candidate: Rick Perry

Absurdity Index: 47.0

What InsideGov said

Though he leans more conservative than the average GOP candidate, Rick Perry’s 35 years of elected experience—including 15 as the Governor of Texas—make Perry an immediate contender. He’ll just need to escape the shadow of his failed 2012 run, where debate gaffes unraveled an otherwise promising campaign.

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#10

Candidate: John Kasich

Absurdity Index: 47.3

What InsideGov said

The Governor of Ohio has over two decades of experience and a balanced mix of viewpoints that could appeal to national voters. For now, only a low polling average brings Kasich down. Given that the governor hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, Kasich could quickly find himself moving down the Absurdity Index and into a short list of contenders.

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#9

Candidate: Rand Paul 

Absurdity Index: 48.8

What InsideGov said

While he’s relatively new to the game (particularly compared to his father, Ron Paul), Paul’s Libertarian leanings will likely help the Kentucky Senator win over a small subset of American voters. His bigger problem will be garnering support from traditional Democrats or Republicans—each of which will have fundamental disagreements with his platform.

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#8

Candidate: George Pataki

Absurdity Index: 49.8

What InsideGov said

The former Governor of New York is, by InsideGov’s count, the last of the semi-viable 2016 candidates. His polling is currently in the gutter, but his moderate views, 25 years of experience and record as a GOP governor in a liberal state all contribute to a well-rounded presidential candidate. He just needs voters to pay attention.

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#7

Candidate: Mike Huckabee

Absurdity Index: 52.2

What InsideGov said

Part pastor, part politician and part Fox News personality, Mike Huckabee has done a little bit of everything—past positions that will help him appeal to a loyal base of Evangelical voters.

For mainstream voters, however, Huckabee’s revolving door of professions, overemphasis on religious values and lack of foreign policy bonafides make him unfit for office.

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#6

Candidate: Ben Carson

Absurdity Index: 55.4

What InsideGov said

Famous for being the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head, Ben Carson is a brilliant physician, but has never been a politician. While some might be refreshed by a candidate so removed from Washington, history tells us that these candidates are the most likely to be loose canons, with offhand comments that trained politicians are smart enough to avoid. For these reasons, Carson is likely to wind up more sideshow than serious contender.

Prev Next

#5

Candidate: Ted Cruz

Absurdity Index: 59.9

What InsideGov said

New to politics and more conservative than the entire field, Cruz easily ranks among 2016’s most absurd candidates. He’ll likely provide some entertainment at debates and in interviews, but there’s no way he’ll make it past New Hampshire. Only a consistent bloc of Tea Party support in the polls prevents him from finishing in the top four.

Prev Next

#4

Candidate: Bobby Jindal

Absurdity Index: 66.5

What InsideGov said

Both highly conservative and unappealing to voters, the Governor of Louisiana has seen a sharp decline in support since he bombed a 2009 State of the Union response. The data says that neither voters nor television networks will take his bid very seriously; he may be among the first to drop out.

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#3

Candidate: Rick Santorum

Absurdity Index: 67.2

What InsideGov said

While Santorum’s years of elected experience are about average (16), his deeply conservative views and consistently low poll numbers make him a superfluous addition to the race.

The former Pennsylvania Senator might be hoping that his deep 2012 run will help validate his bonafides as a candidate, but GOP voters already seem weary of the candidate. If anything, his presidential election history will be more of a curse than a blessing.

Prev Next

#2

Candidate: Carly Fiorina

Absurdity Index: 75.4

What InsideGov said

Fiorina’s low polling numbers and zero years of elected experience work against the businesswoman, who has been trying to transition to politics for the last decade. She deserves praise for her quick rise to senior vice president at AT&T, but her tenure at HP is more ominous.

While serving as HP’s CEO, the company underperformed in the stock market, took on billions in debt, laid off 30,000 workers and saw employee satisfaction plummet. The company’s board eventually forced her to resign. Add to that a failed Senate bid in 2010, and Fiorina has gone many years without a signature victory. It’s unlikely that the 2016 election will mean anything different for the aspiring politician.

Prev Next

#1

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Absurdity Index: 191.2

What InsideGov said

When it comes to absurdity, Trump breaks the scale. Yes, his recent poll numbers aren’t terrible, but all candidates receive bumps after officially announcing their campaigns. Instead, it’s Trump’s wacky policy positions, decades of pretend presidential runs and zero years of elected experience that earn Trump the honor of 2016’s most absurd candidate.

Trump is more likely than anyone on this list to make headlines, yet less likely than the entire field to actually become president. He’s more than twice as ridiculous as the next-most absurd candidate. When the 2016 race is all over, don’t say Trump didn’t win anything. Congratulations, Donald.

 
 

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