Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) gamely defended President Obama and his re-election prospects and offered a backhanded compliment to one of the president’s Republican rivals during a spirited breakfast meeting Thursday with Washington-based reporters.
O’Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said no one is satisfied with “the pace” of the economic recovery but argued that Obama would be well-positioned by Election Day to contrast his economic prescriptions with those of the eventual Republican nominee.
“The president is going to be running against an alternative soon,” O’Malley said. “He’s not running against the Almighty. He’s running against the alternative.”
While acknowledging the conventional wisdom that elections are often referendums on the incumbent, O’Malley also argued that the Republican nominee next year would have to defend “the wreck of an economy that George W. Bush left to us.”
Republicans, O’Malley said, “are responsible for an awful lot of damage to our country’s economy. .. Their worship at the altar of tax cuts for the wealthy is unbecoming to the vast majority of hard-working families who want a better future for their kids.”
O’Malley appeared before about two dozen journalists at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. Appearances at the regularly scheduled breakfasts have been a right of passage for politicians on the national stage for decades.
The moderator, David Cook, said at the outset that it had been 43 years since a Maryland governor last attended — Spiro T. Agnew, who would resign from the vice presidency in disgrace several years later. O’Malley was 5 years old at the time of Agnew’s breakfast appearance, Cook noted.
O’Malley deflected a question Thursday about his own ambitions when asked if he is interested in pursuing the presidency in 2016.
The governor — who introduced himself to the group as “a progressive who has a deep love of history and tradition” — was more effusive in discussing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who stepped down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association to seek the GOP nomination for president.
While critical of Perry’s economic prescriptions, O’Malley praised him for his support of a 2001 Texas law that allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state rates on college tuition. A similar law passed in Maryland this year and will be the subject of a statewide referendum next year.
“I do admire his willingness to stand up to the immigrant bashers, and the thinly veiled racism and scapegoating that’s so rampant in their party and directed at new Americans,” O’Malley said.
Speaking more generally of the Republican presidential field, O’Malley was less kind: “They’re pretty much sticking with the sort of trickle-down, George Bush mode, somewhat warmed over, maybe with some nuanced changes about getting us out of a war that they never spoke up against our getting into.”
O’Malley also acknowledged that both parties have a challenge ahead in crafting “a new narrative” that re-engages people in politics. And he acknowledged the frustration some in his party have felt during the Obama presidency.
“Because the pain was so great, the hopes were so high,” O’Malley said.