Why did Lincoln Chafee even run?

Chafee, despite being a former senator and governor of Rhode Island, had no apparent rationale for his candidacy. Over the summer, Conan O’Brien decided to champion him as the ultimate underdog, and enlisted Ted Leo and Aimee Mann to write him a theme song, to the tune of “She Drives Me Crazy.” One couplet: “He’s only got 12 Facebook friends; he looks like Chris Matthews on a juice cleanse.” In last week’s Democratic debate, Chafee described himself as “a block of granite” and tried to explain away a distasteful vote by noting he was new to the Senate at the time; afterward, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer told him, “You’re going to wind up looking silly if you keep going on like this.” In polls, Chafee routinely received not a single respondent’s support. Contenders with no obvious base are sometimes termed “vanity candidates,” but surely vanity has few antidotes more potent than repeatedly being told nobody likes you.

That day in New Hampshire, I wasn’t the only one trying to get my head around what Chafee thought he was up to. His speech had been a rather low-key recitation of his long political resume (“I haven’t had any scandals, believe it or not!”), and afterward, he opened the floor to questions. For a tense moment, it seemed like there might not be any. But then a white-haired man in a green fleece vest raised his hand. “I’m not saying this to be derogatory,” he began. But when Chafee appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher, he had seemed “very quiet and sheepish,” the man continued. “Polls being what they are, why are you persisting with your candidacy at this time?” he asked.