by James Poulos | September 24, 2015 5:44 am
With doubts swirling around the Democrats’ leading candidates for president, speculation has returned that Gov. Jerry Brown could enter the race. Even some analysts skeptical than he will jump in have suggested that, under the circumstances, he nonetheless should do so.
Brown himself has teased reporters over the course of the year with remarks that slammed the door shut only to creak it open again. This March, on Meet the Press, he admitted he would join race if he were 10 years younger. “If I could go back in a time machine and be 66, I might jump in. But that’s a counterfactual, so you don’t need to speculate on that,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Now, in the minds of analysts, his own state of mind has become a secondary consideration. More important: the surprisingly fluid nature of the Democratic race.
While observers have thrilled to the chaos inflicted on Republican candidates by the rise of insurgents Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the story with the biggest political implications this summer has concerned Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Despite a superficially significant lead, her persistent challenges on authenticity and trustworthiness — fueled by a classified email scandal set to drag on for months — have raised fears that a party elder will have to ride in to the rescue.
That’s where Brown has come in. Neither Bernie Sanders nor Martin O’Malley, Clinton’s main rivals, have gained the confidence of party elites. The political vacuum opened up wide enough to encourage Vice President Joe Biden to consider declaring his candidacy. But his slow deliberation opened a window of its own for Brown, according to supportive analysts.
Last month, former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told Fox News he “wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Bloomberg, Jerry Brown or Elizabeth Warren jump in the race if it looks like Hillary Clinton will implode,” Real Clear Politics noted. “If Hillary starts to implode you will see a vacuum that you have not seen in many, many years,” he warned.
For old-school liberals sensing a 21st century moment, Brown led that pack. “He comes across as something fresh and original,” wrote Michael Kinsley in Vanity Fair. “All that New Age stuff that seemed so weird when Brown ran for president the first time (in 1976) is still part of his repertoire. But he’d be helped if he ran by the extent to which yoga and brown rice and so on have become part of American culture. Jerry Brown hasn’t gone mainstream (or at least not much), but mainstream has gone Jerry Brown.”
Less partisan observers have focused on the appeal to Democrats of his record in office. “Brown is quite popular in the state — 52 percent approval to 27 percent disapproval in a May Public Policy Institute of California survey — and has overseen an economic recovery in the state that many people thought was impossible when he took over the office in 2011,” noted the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.
But Brown’s popularity, as Cillizza also suggested, hasn’t diluted the longtime Clinton critic’s outsider sensibility. The prospect of Brown mounting a renewed challenge to the Clintons’ control of the party would certainly make news. Brown notoriously pushed his combative 1992 presidential candidacy all the way to the party convention, delivering a speech of his own while the party finally formalized its nomination of Bill Clinton.
Now, according to former Clinton administration official Lara Brown (no relation), Gov. Brown’s “more than two-decade long reputation of being the ‘anti-Clinton’ would “endear him to Sanders’ supporters, but would also place him in good stead were the party needing to wash its hands of all things Clinton in the wake of an indictment.”
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