Chafee says Romney ‘a different person’ as he woos GOP base

R.I. Gov. Lincoln Chafee says former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney is “a completely different person” as a presidential candidate than the man who was once a fellow member of the Republican Party’s moderate wing in the Northeast.

“It’s the same thing I saw with John McCain, and I saw with George Pataki and with Rudy Giuliani,” Chafee told during an interview at his office Wednesday.

Referencing a speech on foreign policy Romney gave last week at The Citadel, Chafee said: “The appeal you have to make to the Republican primary audience – that’s just alien to what’s in our best interests as a country.”

Chafee recalled that he used to share many of the same views as those men, noting that he and McCain were the only two Republican senators who voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and that the Arizona senator “was good on climate change, he was good on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

“And I heard George Pataki, who was a three-term governor of New York, and was good on immigration, who attracted all sorts of Latino votes, he was good on the environment – and Rudy Giuliani, he was mayor of New York City,” Chafee said.

“But when I heard them with national ambitions, it was a different person – a completely different person,” he continued. “It’s true in all their cases. And to hear Rudy Giuliani talking to a Republican primary audience is just – and that’s true with Mitt Romney. You just get pulled so far off.”

Chafee and Romney were both New England Republicans in 2006, the year Chafee lost his U.S. Senate reelection bid in Rhode Island and Romney declined to run for a second term as governor of Massachusetts. But their paths diverged in 2007 as Chafee left the GOP while Romney made a bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

Chafee endorsed Barack Obama over McCain in 2008 and may do so again next year.

Chafee’s father, the late John Chafee, was a Republican governor from 1963 to 1969 and U.S. senator from 1976 until his death in 1999. He also served as President Nixon’s Navy secretary from 1969 to 1972.

Check back with Nesi’s Notes on Thursday and Friday for more highlights from the Chafee interview.

10 thoughts on “Chafee says Romney ‘a different person’ as he woos GOP base

  1. Always good to have one of our most prominent liberal RINOs weigh in on the candidates’ true colors as they try to camouflage them.
    Strong defense, economic growth, energy indepencence, these things are “alien to what’s in our best interests as a country?” Thanks for clarifying where you stand governor. And thanks for clarifying where Governor Romney has historically stood.
    Romney has indeed long been one of the party’s most proment liberals and Governor Chafee does a great service by reminding us.
    He is to be thanked for another strong argument in favor of Rick Perry or Herman Cain.

  2. Chafee just gave my vote to Romney. Anyone Chafee is against I’m all for!! Chafee’s against legal students, I’m all for them. If Chafee says Romney is the worst he must in fact be the best. Chafee is totally clueless and an embarrassment to RI!

  3. Look – I know Chafee’s an easy guy to take pot shots at – but he’s absolutely right about this. He’s stating a simple fact. Romney was a moderate Republican as Governor of Mass. – one of the most liberal states in the nation. He was popular there and would probably be re-elected as Governor there if he ran today.

    Running for President is a different animal. The GOP primary process is controlled by the far right of the party – and Romney needs to lean as far to the right as possible to win them over.

    In reality I think Romney is more of a centrist and would be so as President – but for now, to win the nomination, he’s going to pose as conservative as he can.

    You might not like Chafee but he’s not the least bit wrong in his assessment.

    • Interesting take, Jack. I’m not sure Romney would be reelected governor now – he was already moving a bit to the right in 2005 and 2006, which may have been part of why he declined to run for reelection – but he won the state over in 2002.

      I think the question a lot of people are asking is the one you raise – is Romney reality more of a centrist, and would he govern that way? Is everything he’s saying now just rhetoric?

      Josh Barro suggested just that after watching the debate earlier this week. “Our best hope – and not an entirely implausible one – is that presumptive-nominee Romney has a secret plan for the economy,” he wrote:

      I don’t know if he’s right, but it’s certainly a fascinating debate.

  4. once again governor chafee is spot on, an outstanding statesman as was his father. most rhode islanders appreciate his leadership despite the criticism of the culturally deprived as witnessed here and elsewhere. a thoughtful and reasonable man with a classical education, which is more-or-less what i look for in a civil servant. i support the governor wholeheartedly.

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