Running for president is hard.
Deciding not to run? That can be even harder.
Over the last year, two-term former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has explored the possibility of running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, urged on by a small army of Patrick devotees in the Commonwealth. Inspiring and experienced, Patrick would have been a formidable candidate. He compiled real accomplishments as governor, putting his state at the forefront of life sciences globally and managing the fallout of the 2008 recession. Since leaving office, he has worked for Bain Capital investing in firms with social benefits.
But on Thursday, Patrick formally announced on his Facebook page that he won’t pursue the White House, citing “the cruelty of our elections process.”
The other Massachusetts political figures reportedly considering presidential runs should think carefully before jumping in, too.
On the Democratic side, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, US Representatives Joseph P. Kennedy III and Seth Moulton, and former US senator and secretary of state John Kerry have all been mentioned as possible candidates.
On the Republican side, Governor Charlie Baker swears to anyone who’ll listen that he has no interest in higher office — but anti-Trump Republicans are openly looking for someone to challenge the president in the 2020 GOP primaries.
Presidential runs seem to be in the state’s political DNA, in part because of the proximity of New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation primary. And it’s often the right move: In 2015, this editorial page urged Warren to run, in part because of the lack of serious competition against Hillary Clinton. (Clearing the decks for Clinton didn’t exactly end well for Democrats, did it?)
On the Democratic side, though, lack of competition won’t be a problem in 2020. With or without the Massachusetts candidates, it appears the party will have a wide-open, racially and ideologically diverse field. Rumored candidates include former vice president Joe Biden; US Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, and Cory Booker; US Representatives Beto O’Rourke and Tim Ryan; Governors Andrew Cuomo, Jay Inslee, John Hickenlooper, and Steve Bullock; former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg; and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
We’ve undoubtedly missed some. If even half those candidates get in the race, though, Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the rest of the country will have the widest range of choices in decades.
Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020. While Warren won reelection, her margin of victory in November suggests there’s a ceiling on her popularity; Baker garnered more votes than she did in a state that is supposed to be a Democratic haven. Meanwhile, a September poll indicated that Massachusetts voters were more enthusiastic about Patrick making a White House bid than Warren.
Those are warning signs from the voters who know her best. While Warren is an effective and impactful senator with an important voice nationally, she has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump.
Politicians who “explore” or “consider” presidential campaigns set in motion a machine that can be hard to stop. Patrick did, and that’s to his credit. There’s no shame in testing the waters and deciding to stay on the beach.