Deval Patrick's entry into the 2020 presidential race, officially announced Thursday, raises many questions, most notably: Who is Deval Patrick? The former Massachusetts governor hasn't held public office since 2015, after which he joined the notorious job-killing Wall Street firm Bain Capital, and while he's close to Barack Obama it's probably safe to say a good deal of Democratic voters don't know who he is. On top of his low name recognition, his late entry means that he's already missed candidate filing deadlines in Alaska and Alabama. And yet, he's not even the only all-but-hopeless candidate to jump into the already packed Democratic field since late last week, when the widely disliked sexist billionaire Michael Bloomberg filed as a candidate in Alabama.
The polite way to explain these longshot bids is that Democratic elites are worried about the electability of the established candidates. "The concern is that Biden doesn’t have the steam to get there, Warren may be too left, Buttigieg too young, and Bernie limited in his ability to grow," is how former adviser David Axelrod put it in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The more accurate description of what's happening is the rich people who normally decide things in politics are freaking out because they can't completely dominate the process anymore. In response, they're setting huge amounts of money on fire.
A cursory glance at the polls show that Democratic voters are pretty happy about their options, with an October Gallup survey finding near-record satisfaction with the primary field among Democrats. That's not surprising. Bernie Sanders represents the most viable truly left-wing candidate in decades; Elizabeth Warren provides a slightly more moderate, wonkish contrast to Sanders; if Warren and Sanders both seem extreme voters can turn to beloved former Vice President Joe Biden; if Biden seems too old, why not Pete Buttigieg? With just three months before the Iowa caucuses and now 18 official candidates, many Democrats actually want fewer options, and it's hard to blame them.
It's probably much too early to start looking at head-to-head polls predicting how well any of these candidates would do against Donald Trump, but there's not much reason for Democrats to panic. A recent viral New York Times survey found only Biden having a solid lead over Trump in select battleground states, but other polls have painted a more rosy national picture, and Trump's unpopularity might mean that even a red state like Georgia might be in play.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a constituency of Acela-riding consultants, big-money donors, and political insiders convinced that not only are the voters' preferred candidates unelectable, but that what America hungers for is an unknown or actively despised candidate propped up by the 1 percent. The latest entrants to the race can fairly be described as anti-populist: Bloomberg is self-funding his campaign, and Patrick's PAC has largely been financed by huge donations from private equity giants, pharma execs, and a real estate firm.
Throwing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars at these funeral barges of campaigns is almost certainly a waste of money, but it speaks to how concerned wealthy Democrats are about the 2020 contest—and their likely concern is not that a Democrat will lose to Trump, but that they've lost control of what type of Democrat will get nominated. Despite their alleged unelectability, Warren and Sanders have had no trouble raising money, much of it from small donors, whereas Biden has had to resort to establishing a Super PAC so his biggest donors could give even more to him.
There's already some speculation that Patrick's candidacy is an attempt to sabotage the campaign of fellow Massachusetts resident Warren. A simpler explanation is that the establishment, frustrated that buying influence in the Democratic Party isn't as easy as it used to be, is grasping for any way to restore the pre-2016 quo. How desperate are these people? They're supposedly encouraging Hillary Clinton to run again.
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