Some days, the list of Democrats hoping to remove President Trump from the Oval Office in 2020 seems to grow. But on Thursday, it grew shorter after former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick announced that he won’t run, taking one potentially formidable candidate out of the field.
The rationale Patrick gave — that the brutal election process would have a negative effect on his family and loved ones — is probably one many potential candidates are weighing.
Patrick, who was being encouraged to run by ex-aides of former president Barack Obama, as Politico reported last year, and was 13th on The Fix’s latest 2020 rankings, wrote on Facebook on Thursday that he will not run:
“After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I’ve decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me. I’ve been overwhelmed by advice and encouragement from people from all over the country, known and unknown. Humbled, in fact. But knowing that the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey, was more than I could ask.”
Politics has always been ugly. And as a former governor (the first and only black one in Massachusetts’s history), Patrick is surely aware of how deep down in the mud campaigning can get.
Concerns about the Patricks’ spending on pricey decorations, luxury cars and staff while in the governor’s mansion along with allegations of criminal activity by close relatives and associates certainly gave Patrick a taste of what was to come if he entered a national race with global implications.
The 2020 election follows arguably one of the ugliest presidential elections in recent history, which featured allegations of sexual assault, promises to imprison opponents, attacks on the appearances of spouses, allegations of racism, sexism and xenophobia, and much more.
Patrick has spent most of his time out of office in the private sector — something that probably would have put him on the receiving end of criticism from many in the Democratic base. He is a managing director at Bain Capital, a private investment firm formed by Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-Utah), also a former Massachusetts governor.
In responding to questions about his private equity work on CNN’s “State of the Union” in the summer, Patrick said: “I’ve never taken a job where I’ve left my conscience at the door, and I haven’t started now.”
But in his decision not to pursue the presidency, Patrick’s conscience may be telling him to focus more on his family and personal life. Patrick’s wife, Diane, was treated for depression after becoming overwhelmed with the constant media scrutiny for being a political wife and often on the receiving end of criticism. She told CBS Boston: “They were very hard days. The campaign was hard; it was something I had not been accustomed to. It was physically and emotionally wearing.
“I began to feel as though I was losing control over who I was, who my family was, who my husband was. And I felt as though he was being redefined, and it was very distressing. Having come through a long campaign, then to be bombarded with what I thought was a heavy dose of negativism, it was difficult.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama has spent much of the past month touring the United States and sharing just how difficult it was not just being the president’s wife but also enduring a campaign — and perhaps more specifically, the current president’s past role in making her life in the White House challenging.
“The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed,” Obama wrote in her memoir. “But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this I’d never forgive him.”
And after the elections of Obama and Trump, Patrick noted that the celebrification of national politics might make attracting voters difficult for him. He appeared on the podcast of David Axelrod, Obama’s former campaign manager, to say:
“It’s hard to see how you even get noticed in such a big, broad field without being shrill, sensational or a celebrity — and I’m none of those things, and I’m never going to be any of those things.
“Well I’m not sure there is a place for me in that mix, frankly. ... I like my life, but I want to contribute. I want to help. And I think as I say that there are lots of way to serve, and I don’t have to be a presidential candidate to serve.”
As voters — especially Democrats — look for someone to challenge Trump, they are asking individuals to sacrifice more than they probably realize in terms of privacy and exposure. Plenty of potential 2020 candidates will be undaunted by the ugliness of the fray or decide the potential to become president outweighs the negatives. But even politicians, often motivated by a combination of a desire to serve the public and a desire for the spotlight, sometimes have their limits.