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Yvonne Abraham

President Patrick? Maybe, maybe not

Deval Patrick said talk of a presidential run was premature.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file 2015

OK, let’s play this parlor game. Could Deval Patrick really be a viable presidential candidate?

According to Politico, members of former president Barack Obama’s circle are itching for his good friend, and our former governor, to run in 2020. Patrick told the magazine the talk was premature but ruled nothing out.

He declined to chat about the chatter on Wednesday, e-mailing to say he had nothing to offer beyond his interview with Politico, adding, “but I appreciate (and honestly am humbled by) the encouragement.”

For Obama fans, it’s easy to see Patrick’s appeal. The two are strikingly similar: The governor came from pretty much nowhere, beating long odds with a hopeful, unifying message to win in 2006. He is a soaring speaker. He also has a remarkable gift for retail politics — his ability to connect one-to-one is the best I have seen.


As governor, he made strides on education reform, came out early and strong in the battle to protect marriage rights for same-sex couples, gave an impassioned welcome to unaccompanied children crossing the border, and bolstered the state’s biotech sector. He botched some other things, of course, but won reelection by a considerable margin.

But while politics in Massachusetts ain’t bean bag, the presidential game is truly ugly — uglier than when Obama first ran, and definitely way uglier than when Patrick pulled his first nomination papers. And so Patrick’s vulnerabilities, real and manufactured, will be magnified. He will be criticized for not fully engaging as governor, allowing a damaging breakdown at the state’s health care website, and a tragic one at the Department of Children and Families, whose workers lost track of a little boy who died.

Opponents will hit him for overreaching on a tax increase, and for not working well with legislators. They’ll criticize him for working at Bain Capital, the investment firm Democrats tried to make into Mitt Romney’s albatross in 2012 — even though Patrick leads an arm there that invests for social good. And his opponents will doubtless go lower still; there is no bottom these days.


Patrick would really, really have to want to be president to subject himself to that.

If he does run, the question isn’t just whether Patrick would be elected, but whether this is a country that would elect someone like him.

America seems more racially divided now than it has in decades, a trend egged on by President Trump and some of his more conscience-free backers.

It’s revealing that, as his approval ratings plummet, Trump is shoring up his base with appeals to white voters who are hostile to, or fearful of, those who don’t look like them. Among other moves, the president touted legislation to slash legal — legal! — immigration, and prioritize educated immigrants who speak English, a move clearly designed to change the complexion of those newcomers who settle here.

Against that backdrop, Democrats face an ugly choice: Should they put up nominees with whom Trump voters might be more comfortable, or double down on the inclusive values they’ve always stood for?

Can you win back the alienated white vote without losing your soul? Some party bigs have apparently decided the answer is no: Appallingly, they’re now saying Democrats should support candidates who oppose abortion rights, effectively throwing women under the bus to woo others. Will they also decide it’s too risky now to consider a woman or a person of color as a nominee?


Lord, I hope not. But the stakes are so high, I can understand the impulse.

Patrick’s supporters are certain their guy can win over voters without pandering. The governor’s fans are an optimistic lot, but none of them holds a candle to their guy when it comes to doubling down on Democratic values.

“It’s time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone and stand up for what we believe,” he said, in a barn-burner of a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. “We’re Americans. We shape our own future.”

Soon enough, we’ll see if his sunny certainty is justified — or delusional.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.