Welcome to What's Up With Lincoln Chafee, a somewhat-less-than-weekly series at Vox in which we check in on the life and times of former moderate Republican senator turned independent governor of Rhode Island turned underdog Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee.
Holy moly, has the last month been a thrill a minute for the Chafee campaign! It's been a while since our last check-in, so here's a recap of recent developments for the heavyweight from the Plantation State.
There's a grammar primary, and Chafee won!
Grammarly, a grammar checking app, has seen fit to evaluate the grammar of commenters on Facebook posts for various Democratic and Republican 2016 hopefuls.
Most coverage of the Grammarly study has focused on the fact that the Democratic candidates' supporters averaged fewer grammar mistakes per 100 words — 4.2 versus 8.7 — than the Republican candidates' supporters. But USA Today's Paul Singer rightly homed in on the real news: Chafee Nation is better at grammar than any other candidate's support base. Donald Trump supporters, perhaps unsurprisingly, come in in last place:
Now, generally I'm of the view that grammar pedants are the worst people in the entire world, and so am generally skeptical of this entire exercise. But it's probably the only primary Linc is going to win this campaign cycle, so it's worth celebrating for Chaficionados.
For more on the study, including details on its methodology, see Singer's post at USA Today.
Hugo Chavez had Chavismo. Will Lincoln Chafee have Chafismo?
Linc sparked a bit of controversy — or would have, if people were paying attention — when he praised late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a forum in Washington last week, saying, "We regret so much what happened with Chavez. That he was democratically elected in free elections. I think the doors were open with good relations with us." Chafee recounted a meeting with Chavez that convinced him that disrespect from the US was a major factor in the deterioration of US-Venezuelan relations.
This isn't a new argument from Chafee. "In the course of conversation President Chavez allowed as how, unlike some of his neighboring heads of state, he had never been afforded an Oval Office photo opportunity," Chafee wrote in his memoir Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President. "In subsequent years, I sometimes wondered if this blow to the Venezuelan leader's ego had played a part in escalating his fiery rhetoric, and his displays of seeking friendship among America's adversaries, in Cuba, Iran, and elsewhere."
This is a bit of a glib summary of the deterioration of the US-Venezuelan relationship. Bad relations with Chavez began before he even became president in 1998, when the Clinton administration denied him a visa due to his central role in a 1992 coup attempt. While he got a visa back after being elected president, US officials were clearly still wary of him. He also antagonized the US by selling Cuba heavily discounted oil starting in 2000 — when Clinton was still president. The first big moment in Chavez's turn against the US was an April 2001 summit to negotiate a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Chavez was firmly opposed to the deal — and while the Bush administration was in favor of it, the Clinton administration had been as well. The dispute was over policy, rather than style or "respect."
It's true that the Bush administration actively supported opposition figures in Venezuela at the time, including ones involved in a 2002 coup against Chavez. That was a perhaps unnecessary provocation. But a congressional investigation concluded that the US didn't play a role in the coup itself and, if anything, discouraged its plotters from following through in the weeks leading up to the event.
Still, while Chafee's assessment of the US's role in alienating Chavez may be a bit off, it nonetheless provoked a CBS News article, which is a real accomplishment given how hard it has been for Chafee to gin up campaign coverage.
America's going to see what Linc's made of on Tuesday
Finally, the most important Lincoln Chafee news is that there's a Democratic candidates' debate on Tuesday — and the Chafster is in it!
"The announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise since more than one national poll of late has shown Chafee failing to attract a single supporter in the Democratic primary for president," WPRI's Ted Nesi writes. "But in its debate announcement … CNN said Chafee and the other four candidates have each 'achieved an average of 1 percent in three polls, recognized by CNN, released between Aug. 1 and Oct. 10' — so Chafee only needed three polls to show him at 1 percent to make it into the debate." This gives Chafee a big leg up over Lawrence Lessig, a fellow long-shot candidate who still hasn't been invited to the debate.
CNN's decision to let Linc in was prescient. When Nesi was writing, Chafee averaged 0.0 percent in national polls. But as of today, he's averaging 0.2 percent, thanks to two polls from PPP and USA Today/Suffolk, respectively, each showing him at 1 percent. In New Hampshire and Iowa, he's doing even better, at 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent respectively.
Will his moderate fiscal record and dovish message on foreign policy be enough to gain support from primary voters who are frustrated by Hillary Clinton's bellicosity but not far-left enough for Bernie Sanders's economic platform? Are there more than, like, five such voters? Tune in to future installments of "What's Up With Lincoln Chafee" to find out.