Lincoln Chafee revealed Thursday that he has formed an exploratory committee for the Democratic presidential nomination. He's got a Web site and everything, which already makes him a more real candidate than the man we will call Onalday Rumptay. In another way, though, Chafee might be just as serious as Rumptay: This may simply be an effort to promote his image -- and sell a few books along the way.
Chafee, for those unfamiliar, served as senator for Rhode Island from 1999 until 2007, and governor of the state from 2011 until earlier this year. Over the course of that service, he was a Republican, an independent, and, finally, a Democrat. He chose not to run for reelection last year in part because he wasn't terribly popular. And if you're a question mark in your home state, and your home state is also tiny and amenable to your politics, it's strange to suddenly (and it was sudden) throw your hat into the ring against one of the most dominant presidential primary candidates in recent American political history.
(Ted Nesi has a good rundown on all of this, including the factoid that Chafee also toyed with challenging George W. Bush in the 2004 New Hampshire primary when he was a Republican.)
Unless there's something else afoot.
If you visit Chafee's website, Chafee2016.com, you'll notice the prominent placement of an appeal to buy his book right on the main page. You have to scroll down a little bit, sure, but there it is: a plug for "Against the Tide," coupled with a large, green "Buy the book" button. On every other page of the site, too: two little boxes. One, a stark pitch for donations, the text of which reads simply "Put your trust in Lincoln Chafee to run for President." And not-too-far underneath it, a book plug, with a picture of the book and the blurb, "Chafee’s insights reveal a deep understanding of American politics as well as uncanny predictions for our world."
Seems to me -- and I'm just one lonely guy, spitballing ideas here -- that a real contender for the presidency might put a bit more effort into the "give me money so I can actually win this thing" than the "buy my book."
Exploratory committees, as we noted when considering the non-candidacy of Rumptay, are remarkably flexible things. They confer all of the seriousness of being a presidential candidate with none of the actual financial or legal commitments. You can point to it to say, Hey, I am a serious candidate and then enjoy the attention that comes from being a serious candidate, which you can then parlay into more viewers for your reality television show ("The Renticeappay") or your new book, available now, buy buy buy.
We could be wrong. Perhaps he's simply trying to influence the Democratic primary with his unique brand of been-there-done-that centrism. After all, Chafee's Web site also features a sort-of endorsement from a Democratic senator from a red state, perhaps bolstering his middle-ground credentials.
That senator is Robert Byrd from West Virginia, who is dead.