Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts and newly-resigned executive of Mitt Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital, has entered the Democratic primary race, which is shaping up to be the biggest ensemble-disaster comedy since Cannonball Run.
Patrick’s entry comes after news that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put himself on the ballot in Alabama and Arkansas. It also comes amid word from Hillary Clinton that “many, many, many” people are urging her to run in 2020, and whispers in the press that an “anxious Democratic establishment” has been praying for alternate candidacies in a year that had already seen an astonishing 26 different people jump in the race.
A piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago suggested Democratic insiders, going through a “Maalox moment” as they contemplated possible failure in next year’s general election season, were fantasizing about “white knight” campaigns by Clinton, Patrick, John Kerry, Michelle Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder (!), or Ohio’s Sherrod Brown.
The story described “concern” that “party elites” have about the existing field:
With doubts rising about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s ability to finance a multistate primary campaign, persistent questions about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s viability in the general election and skepticism that Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., can broaden his appeal beyond white voters, Democratic leaders are engaging in a familiar rite: fretting about who is in the race…
LOL at the non-mention of Bernie Sanders in that passage. If Bernie wins the nomination, “Buttigieg Finishes Encouraging Fourth” is going to be your A1 Times headline.
Patrick in announcing voiced a similar set of “concerns,” basically saying he’s proud to enter this deep, richly experienced field that sucks just enough to force his emergency entrance: “I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field. They bring a richness of ideas and experience and a depth of character that makes me proud to be a Democrat. But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country.”
The Times said Patrick’s policy prescriptions place him “closer to the ideological center than to the left.” In another story about Patrick and Bloomberg, the Times explained that both men “believe there is room in the race for a more dynamic candidate who is closer to the political middle than Mr. Biden’s two most prominent challengers, Ms. Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders.”
People like Bloomberg and Patrick seem to believe in the existence of a massive electoral “middle” that wants 15-point plans and meritocratic slogans instead of action. As befits brilliant political strategists, they also seem hyper-concerned about the feelings of the country’s least numerous demographic, the extremely rich. A consistent theme is fear (often described in papers like the Times as “concern”) that the rhetoric of Warren and Sanders might unduly upset wealthy folk.
“I don’t think that wealth is the problem. I think greed is the problem,” Patrick told CBS This Morning. He added that “taxes should go up on the most prosperous and the most fortunate,” but “not as a penalty.”
What does that mean? Should we impose higher taxes on the rich but include a note from the IRS saying, “It’s not because we don’t love you”?
Along with an alarmingly high number of press figures, politicians like Patrick seem to be trapped in an “electability” concept that hasn’t made sense since the Reagan-Bush years. Outside of a few spots on the Upper East Side and in Georgetown and L.A., the “center” has been gone a long time.
From Donald Trump to Sanders to Warren, the politicians attracting the biggest and most enthusiastic responses in recent years have run on furious, throw-the-bums-out themes, for the logical reason that bums by now clearly need throwing out.
America’s political establishment has created vast inequities not only in the economy, but in criminal justice (where street crime is heavily punished, but white collar crime is not), war (it’s mostly not the sons and daughters of politicians and CEOs getting killed in overseas conflicts), health care (where much of the population lives in fear that getting sick will trigger bankruptcy), debt forgiveness (Wall Street bailout recipients got to write off losses, but people suffering foreclosures and student loan defaults are ruined), and other arenas.
You can’t capture the widespread discontent over these issues if you’re running on a message that the donor class doesn’t deserve censure for helping create these messes. It’s worse if you actually worked — as Patrick did — for a company like Ameriquest, a poster child for the practices that caused the 2008 financial crisis: using aggressive and/or predatory tactics to push homeowners into new subprime mortgages or mortgage refis, fueling the disastrous financial bubble.
If we count Bloomberg, Patrick marks the 28th person to run in the 2020 Democratic race. Pundits from the start have hyped a succession of politicians with similar/familiar political profiles, from Beto O’Rourke to Kamala Harris to Buttigieg to Amy Klobuchar to John Delaney, and all have failed to capture public sentiment, for the incredibly obvious reason that voters have tuned out this kind of politician.
They’ve heard it all before. Every time a long-serving establishment Democrat gets up and offers paeans to “hope” and “unity” and “economic mobility,” all voters hear is blah, blah, blah. They’re not looking for what FiveThirtyEight.com calls a “Goldilocks solution,” i.e. “Buttigieg, but older,” or “Biden, but younger” (or, more to the point in the case of this Bain Capital executive, “Mitt Romney, but black”); they’re looking for something actually different from what they’ve seen before.
The party’s insiders would have better luck finding a winning general election candidate if they randomly plucked an auto mechanic from Lansing, Michigan, or a nail salon owner from Vegas, or any of a thousand schoolteachers who could use the six months of better-paid work, than they would backing yet another in the seemingly endless parade of corporate-friendly “Goldilocks solutions.” That’s assuming they can’t see past themselves long enough to at least pretend they can support someone with wide support bases like Sanders or Warren.
If what the Times calls the “Anxious Democratic Establishment” remains stuck in the same doomed, outmoded “centrist” strategy, next year’s general election season will almost certainly be a miserable repeat of 2016. It seems like everyone sees this but the people with the most money to fund challenges to Trump. Watching people like Patrick talk themselves into running into the populist wood-chipper is a cringe-worthy spectacle, like watching a relative who can’t sing at all talk himself into going on The Voice. Can someone tell these people the bad news?