Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks in Washington, D.C. on July 28, 2015.
Michael Bonfigli—The Christian Science Monitor
Updated: July 28, 2015 12:00 PM ET | Originally published: July 28, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

For someone running for the Democratic nomination for President, Lincoln Chafee has a lot of nice things to say about Republicans.

That may be because he used to be one: Chafee was a Republican Senator from Rhode Island from 1999 to 2007, then an Independent for the beginning of his tenure as Governor of the state from 2011 to 2015, finally switching his party affiliation to Democrat in 2013.

But even as he seeks the Democratic nomination against political juggernaut Hillary Clinton and populist wunderkind Bernie Sanders, Chafee still has plenty of kind words for his former party. Speaking at a breakfast in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning, Chafee cited two Republicans as his favorite modern Presidents.

“Theodore Roosevelt, certainly I think I compare favorably to him saying ‘speak softly and carry a big stick,'” Chafee said, citing his quiet courage as similar to the trust-busting Republican’s.

When asked to name a more recent President, Chafee went with another Republican, George H. W. Bush. “I do admire courage in politics, and guts and backbone,” he said. “[George] H. W. Bush [addressed] the real issue of deficits … He knew the political sacrifice that was going to come.”

He mentioned a Democratic President as well: Bill Clinton, who happens to be the husband of his most formidable primary opponent. “Bill Clinton putting in his deficit reduction plan, that took guts,” he said.

Chafee also spoke fondly of another Bush: Jeb, his potential 2016 rival and a high school classmate from Andover boarding school in Massachusetts in the 1960s.

“We were in a small dorm… so we knew each other well and played ping pong in the basement,” Chafee said. “Our dads talked politics, and [it was 1968 and 1969] so a lot of changes were happening in the country in those years, so just naturally politics was very much in many students minds. … We tended naturally to support our fathers.”

Bush’s father was George H.W. Bush, who would go on to be elected President in 1989; Chafee’s father was John Chafee, the Governor of Rhode Island who became a Republican Senator from the state in 1976.

But Chafee wasn’t entirely complimentary of the GOP, returning to his main talking point in the primaries: the fact that most members of his former party in Congress (as well as Hillary Clinton) voted for the Iraq war in 2002, while he voted against.

“I think it’s important for the Democratic party to make this chaos in the Middle East a Republican chaos,” he said. “They were the ones that created Iraq and created all the problems now… ISIS, Boko Haram in Nigeria, it all started with the invasion of Iraq. Politically speaking, the Democratic party needs to show that’s a Republican mistake.”

Chafee is polling within the margin of error in most national polls: a recent Monmouth University poll had him at 0%, with a 5.2% margin of error.

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