In just a handful of weeks, speculation has returned, and hype has built, around the idea of a Jerry Brown candidacy for president.
From one perspective, he has succeeded so much in California politics that he has disqualified himself. As the soon-to-be four-time governor of one of the most indelibly blue states, Brown has developed a reputation as a politician unpalatable to Republicans but controversial among Democrats.
On the other hand, Democrats have become queasy over Hillary Clinton’s alleged inevitability as their party’s next nominee. Yet Democrats also remain concerned about how well others drawn from a thin national bench — like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or even Vice President Joe Biden — might fare.
From their standpoint, Brown has recovered the potential to redirect the party in a clear and compelling way. Brown has become the last and most successful representative of the late-1960 liberalism that rejected President Lyndon Johnson, but had not yet evolved into the electorally disastrous ideology associated with Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, the party’s 1972 presidential nominee.
An unintentional media blitz
Brown, who made almost no effort this year to campaign for his own re-election, has not lifted a finger to stoke buzz around a possible presidential run. In March, Brown told CBS Channel 5 in San Francisco that he’d be interested in running for a more modest office. “There are always races around. I certainly enjoyed being mayor of Oakland. That was a real wonderful opportunity. I never made the most of it,” he said.
Then, in May, Brown told George Stephanopoulos that Hillary Clinton’s frontrunner status brought “risks” and required a “cautious and wise” approach. (Brown, notoriously, contested Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 1992 long after it became impossible for him to win.)
In early July, however, Chuck Todd opined that Brown would be the most likely candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination. Brown, said Todd, was as much a “nemesis to the Clintons” as Al Gore, although his “resume with the left and populist movement is as strong, if not stronger.”
But recently Bill Maher delivered a forceful endorsement of Brown. “If Jerry Brown was 55,” he said on Real Time, his political commentary show on HBO, his record in California “would have Democrats hyping him for president. But they’re not. Because he’s 76, and ageism is the last acceptable prejudice in America.”
Brown’s personal and political experience, Maher implied, exceeded that of the rest of the Democrats’ presumptive field. “Wisdom isn’t something you can just Google. And governing is where we need wisdom. A concept that wise, ancient cultures already know.”
In mid-October, Brown reiterated to the Los Angeles Times that he’d consider another run at the Oakland mayoralty. “I wouldn’t mind being mayor of Oakland. But I don’t know, when I’m 80 and a half, whether I’ll have the same appetite.” Yet Brown preempted any question about flagging energy. “I’m very excited doing this job,” he told the Times, and made clear, “I don’t want to foreclose my options for four years from now.”
Likely hurdles would remain
In addition to the age issue — currently bedeviling Hillary Clinton herself — Brown would not face a cakewalk to the nomination, even if Clinton bowed out for some unexpected reason. As Dan Schnur pointed out at The Wall Street Journal, a bigger obstacle to a Brown candidacy would be even more fundamental: his own idiosyncrasy.
According to Schnur, Brown’s “brand of centrism has no logical place in a 2016 primary field. If a challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to emerge, it will almost certainly be a populist voice from the Democratic base. Mr. Brown’s insistence on budget cuts that frustrated his party’s legislators, his unwillingness to ban fracking, and his continued interest in revamping California’s environmental regulations make him an unlikely flag-carrier for progressive primary voters.”
Meanwhile, Brown still has a large and unruly state to govern.
Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.