Seth Moulton has been a busy man.
The North Shore congressman has been crisscrossing the early presidential-primary states like any of the viable candidates. Just last week, he hit Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, before heading to Weare, Exeter, and Hillsborough in New Hampshire. He ate corn dogs and ice cream.
And America ignored him — as it has, resolutely, since he announced his candidacy in April.
In poll after poll after poll, Moulton has registered at zero percent. Yes, zero. The same number your dog or cat would poll. Yet the Harvard-educated US Marine Corps veteran soldiers on. He has not approached any of the benchmarks for getting onto the overcrowded Democratic debate stage.
Is this any way to waste a perfectly good summer?
Don’t get me wrong; I respect Moulton as a political talent. He ran a fine campaign in taking out longtime incumbent John Tierney. He’s obviously smart, driven, and ambitious.
But his presidential bid always puzzled me. It came on the heels of a disastrously inept campaign to push out Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. He was the 20th candidate to enter the field. By then, he was, in essence, Just Another White Guy. He has garnered even less support than John Hickenlooper, who got out, or Steve Bullock, who’s on the way out, or that congressman from California whose name never sticks in my head (Eric Swalwell, who’s out.)
Just months ago, Moulton was formidable. Since the moment he was elected to Congress, rumors swirled about him. There was talk that he would demolish Ed Markey head-to-head in a US Senate race. Or that he would be a strong candidate for governor, even though he has never expressed the slightest interest in being governor.
Instead, he led a doomed crusade against Pelosi — without actually running against her — and now here he is, at the obvious low point of his formerly gilded political career, stuck in a race he doesn’t even register in.
Why not pack it in? Or, rather, when does he pack it in?
“My experience working with candidates is that they’re the last ones to know,” said Democratic strategist and pollster Brad Bannon. “They’ve invested all their time and energy and money into running for president, and they have a hard time admitting that they’ve failed.”
I wanted to ask Moulton about the future of his faltering campaign last week, but was told that he didn’t have time to get on the phone, given his packed schedule in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But he’s a smart man, and it isn’t as though he can’t read a poll. He has to know this isn’t happening.
With his glittering résumé, good looks, and moderate politics, Moulton always seemed to view himself as a man headed for big, big things. That soaring ambition is now part of his undoing. America simply doesn’t see what he sees when he looks in the mirror. Heaven knows, he’s not the first presidential candidate to pull into Iowa or New Hampshire and discover he isn’t as popular or as famous as he thought he was. Running for president was a premature — make that a rash — move.
Moulton clearly isn’t going to be our next president, so what’s next? He has always treated the job he has like a steppingstone to his true destiny, and voters tend to resent that. His time as a congressman could be done.
It certainly isn’t too late to jump into the 2020 Senate race against Markey, but will voters believe he really wants the job? He’s probably a weaker candidate than he would have been six months ago.
What happens to politicians who reach for the big brass ring and end up flailing? That didn’t seem like a question Seth Moulton would ever have to ponder. He’s soon going to have a lot of time to think about it.