Neel Kashkari would seem to have it all, save two things: hair on top of his head, and a rationale for his candidacy.
The first is probably forgivable, though, if you ask this writerly middle-aged man with a full head of terrific hair, going bald diminishes one easy advantage he might claim over the balding incumbent.
The second thing is a bigger problem.
A rationale for a candidate like Kashkari isn’t a very important part of a strategy – it’s the whole strategy. And the usual rationales won’t work.
Kashkari can’t distinguish himself by arguing that he embodies some nice combination of fiscal austerity and social liberality – we already have a governor with that positioning, and his name is Jerry Brown.
Kashkari can’t run on the notion that he’s the only candidate who cares about the poor. Lots of people care about the poor, and he has no special expertise or understanding of the subject.
Kashkari can’t run by saying, as he did in announcing he’s focused on jobs and schools. So is everybody. Yawn. Hey, dude, didn’t the focus groups say anything else?
Kashkari can’t run on biography. The son of immigrants might be novel someplace else, but not so long ago we had an actual immigrant as governor, who was a fiscal conservative-social moderate Republican type (a Kashkari with muscles and without the banking baggage), and people mostly didn’t like how that turned out. We also had a similar moderate Republican come out of the business world to run for governor; that candidacy also died at the box office, so to speak.
Kashkari can’t run on experience in elected office. He doesn’t have any.
And Kashkari can’t run as anti-Brown, bashing the governor. Yes, Brown is exaggerating the state’s comeback. Yes, most of us – at least those of us not living in the surging Bay Area – realize the state has big, systemic problems that Brown has refused to address. But no one out there seems to have very good answers to those deeper problems – the persistent governing dysfunction of California, the jobs and economics troubles, the problem of paying for water and infrastructure.
So if you’re someone like Kashkari and you’re going to run for governor, you better have the following rationale: I know something very, very important that you—my fellow Californians – don’t yet know, and that can change the state for the better.
In other words, because of the things he knows, because of ideas he has, he has an approach to California’s policy and governance difficulties that hasn’t been tried yet.
My hope is that he has such a rationale. But if he does, he needs to stop messing around and start explaining – loudly, constantly, clearly – exactly what it is.
If there is such a rationale in his head, I’d bet it comes out of his banking and TARP experience. Not many people have been in the room as the usual rules and laws are basically ignored, and big, giant, transformative decisions are made in an emergency situation. If that experience and his subsequent thinking has given him a way around the thicket of law that so constrain California governors, lawmakers and the public itself, that would be something all of us would be interested in hearing.
Such a rationale, if it exists, won’t be easy to explain. And he doesn’t have a lot of time. The general election – that’s right the general election’s in June, California abolished primaries when it adopted the top two – is less than five months away.