Deval Patrick is gathering his political forces, apparently ready to mount an 11th-hour presidential campaign invasion via next door New Hampshire. Michael Bloomberg is opening his groaning war chest in anticipation of launching a billionaire blitz.
Which is to say, we have officially arrived at the Henry VIII stage of the 2020 presidential campaign, the period when a restive group of doubtful Democrats start longing for a more pleasing political mate — and potential prospects make their last-minute calculations.
In Henry’s day, finding a new consort could be a chore, given his oft-discarded and sometimes beheaded former wives. "If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England’s disposal,” is the way one possible prospect supposedly signaled her disinclination to join Henry in not so holy matrimony.
The search for late campaign entrants often runs along similar lines. The best prospects are usually unwilling to make the leap, while those who do, land with a thud.
Yet this time could be different.
Not for Bloomberg. He is 77, thoroughly uncharismatic, and somewhat high-handed — and he would wear his controversial stop-and-frisk police policy like an albatross. As such, he’s the race’s Anne of Cleves, the distinguished lady whose picture Henry sent Hans Holbein the younger to Germany to paint when in search of a fourth wife. Henry found her portrait appealing enough to propose, but when Anne herself arrived, felt no kingly attraction. Their marriage was later annulled.
Patrick, however, could be a different story. As a two-term Massachusetts governor, his big civic ambitions proved an awkward fit for crimped, recessionary times. That said, he had some important accomplishments on education, energy, and reform. And though he wasn’t a particularly strong manager, it’s unclear that matters anymore. If it did, the nation wouldn’t have elected Donald “six bankruptcies” Trump.
But if Patrick’s governing record was mixed, his campaign skills are top rate. He’s a mesmerizing, better-than-Obama speaker. In contrast to Trump’s dog-whistle division and name-calling, Patrick would offer a positive, unifying appeal.
His politics are halfway between Joe Biden’s and Elizabeth Warren’s. If he does indeed enter the race, it will likely reflect a judgment that Biden is unlikely to prevail against Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination and Warren is an uncertain prospect in the general election.
That, in turn, reflects a wider recognition that Warren has gotten herself mired in single-payer quicksand.
Warren may recognize that herself. On Monday while in Exeter, New Hampshire, she ran through her presidential plans without mentioning her mandatory Medicare for All plan. It wouldn’t have come up at all if an audience member hadn’t asked about ways to reassure nervous friends about her private-insurance-ending plan.
In a press gaggle afterward, I asked Warren what she would do if she is elected president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there’s simply no appetite for single-payer in the House?
“We’re not there,” she said. But say we were? “No, but we’re not.”
I then queried her about Pelosi’s counsel to candidates to focus on fixing and improving the Affordable Care Act rather than ditching it for a single-payer system, which she considers difficult to peddle in a general election. And to pay for.
“I am out there talking about what I believe in,” Warren replied. I noted that as recently as last year, she believed fixing the ACA should take priority, and that for her single-payer was more aspirational.
“I do think we should strengthen and defend the ACA,” she replied. “That’s not inconsistent. And we need to do that right now . . . We need to defend the Affordable Care Act and we need to move toward Medicare for All, so we don’t have people who are going broke over medical bills . . . That’s what I’m going to keep fighting for.”
Is there wiggle room there? Perhaps a quarter nod toward political reality, a slight opening of the door — though not enough to let a bellicose Bernie barge in to berate her.
And certainly not enough to allay renewed worries about her electability. Her lurch to port has left a center-left opening — one Deval Patrick, despite his late start, could plausibly fill.
Look for a Thursday announcement.