WASHINGTON — Massachusetts once groomed presidents, or at least presidential nominees. This year, the state serves as a supply line for understudies.
Elizabeth Warren. Scott Brown. Bill Weld. All are being talked about for the vice presidency, which is to say second in command, the B team. And for two out of three, that’s not even a sure thing.
It’s enough to make you wonder: What has happened to Massachusetts’ history of aiming for the top of the ticket? Have we become hesitant? Soft? Lacking in ambition?
“Unfortunately we’re now in a bit of lull,” acknowledged Ryan Williams, a veteran Republican strategist and onetime adviser to one of state’s presidential hopefuls. “It’s disappointing.”
Williams, ever the partisan, blamed Democrats for the plight.
“You’d think a state that is so solidly blue could produce a better crop,” he said.
A stroll through recent history reveals a proud tradition of the state’s leaders taking command of their parties, or at least trying to. The state offered three Kennedys (John, Bobby and Ted), Paul Tsongas, and Michael Dukakis.
In July 2016, this is the state of play:
Former governor Deval Patrick opted for a cushy job instead of months of cheap hotels and town hall meetings on the campaign trail.
Warren, who ignored tradition when she passed on mounting a White House bid as the state’s senior senator, is now being vetted by Hillary Clinton’s team as a potential running mate.
“If Elizabeth Warren had run, she’d be the next president!” explained Democratic strategist and president whisperer Philip W. Johnston.
If, if, if.
Brown, the former Bay State senator — whose subsequent move to New Hampshire doesn’t disqualify him as a local — is close enough to the Donald Trump operation that Democratic operatives are trying to spread nasty stories about him in the press. He won’t say if he’s being vetted for the veep role, but he’s been one of the Trump campaign’s most eager surrogates.
And Weld, the former Republican governor, is the vice presidential pick for the Libertarian Party. It doesn’t seem to be a full-time job, as he’s also been spotted boosting efforts to improve Boston’s creaking public transit system.
“I think the fact that we’re still kind of in the hunt in many ways is still impressive,” said former governor Dukakis, who was the Democratic Party’s 1988 standard-bearer.
The Commonwealth’s two most recent presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and John Kerry — perhaps too distraught by the current dearth of regional representation on the national stage — declined to comment for this story.
The 2016 lineup brings an added insult to the decline of Massachusetts’ once-proud presidential candidate manufacturing sector: This year’s presidential contenders come from the city whose baseball team wears pinstripes.
A former New York senator (albeit one educated at Wellesley College) and a New York real estate developer with no real ties to Massachusetts will be filling the top of the ticket for the two major parties.
Dukakis pointed out that Hillary Clinton wasn’t born in New York. “Hillary is from Chicago, for God’s sake,” he said.
As a potential consolation prize, the vice presidents, whoever the finalized set are, will take center stage at least one day during this fall’s presidential campaign: In October they’ll debate at a college in Farmville, Va.
And to play out the state’s best-case scenario for a minute, that could produce a Warren versus Brown vice presidential face-off, which would be familiar to Bay Staters who watched the two debate during the 2012 Senate contest.
Those with a keen eye for history are optimistic about the Bay State’s prognosis.
“Who was the first vice president of the United States?” barked Ron Kaufman, a veteran Republican presidential fixer.
The answer: John Adams, born in Quincy. But he’s better known as the country’s second president.
Massachusetts has produced three other vice presidents: Elbridge Gerry, known for pushing political boundaries; abolitionist Henry Wilson; and John Calvin Coolidge (technically a Vermont native), who like Adams ended up with the top job.
Kaufman turned to Boston’s sports franchises to explain what is going on in politics.
“I love the Boston Celtics. I love the Red Sox. They can’t win every year,” Kaufman said. “They both are young teams on the way up.”
He even made a pitch for the vice presidency.
“What’s worse than being second billing?” Kaufman asked. “How about not being in the game at all! How do you think other states feel?”