He knows the math.
At least I thought he did. But I guess I was wrong … again.
Back in January — when a twisting wind was swirling in Gov. Jay Inslee’s camp urging him to run for president — I wrote a Press Talk column saying he’ll stay home and continue to do governor things. You know, like cutting ribbons, visiting schools and cutting more ribbons.
Why? Because — as noted — he knew the presidential math. In other words, when you crunched all the numbers, it came out to zero for him. No chance.
So did he heed my sage advice? As you know, he did not. Two months later, in March, he announced his run. This, by the way, upheld my perfect track record of politicians listening to my advice. That is, perfect as in never.
So off Inslee went. And off he was. Way off. His campaign lasted about as long as the charge in a Tesla’s battery. By August he was finished.
• • •
Now why would Inslee do something so goofy? I mean, I sold the guy a “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” mug. If he had only followed its advice.
So what went so terribly wrong?
• Old white guy. Hey, I like old white guys as much as the next guy. I am one. But if you had to pick one glaring thing separating the Republicans from the Democrats it would be this: when you look at the faces of the Republican Party you see old white guys. The faces of Democrats? Anything but.
Inslee is 68. Sure, there are other old white guys trying to win the Democratic nomination. But the clock is ticking on them as well.
(Footnote: This is a good thing. Us old white guys have screwed up enough.)
• Washington state. Inslee is a good person who has done good for our state. Sure, he’s in love with all things union and he’s almost never met a tax he didn’t support, but it is what it is. He more than makes up for it with his environmental stances, keeping the economy humming and exuding positive vibes. He now will run for a third term as governor and he will win.
But being a big deal in the Evergreen State doesn’t mean squat to the rest of the country. Sorry, governor. It’s Washington state, for goodness sake. People east of the Mississippi River still don’t know the difference between a Cougar and a Husky. (Go Cougs!)
• Single issue. I agree with Inslee that climate change should be the most important thing on the agenda. It’s that big of a deal. But, recalling a phrase political strategist James Carville once coined for Bill Clinton, it’s the economy, stupid.
Sure, Inslee tried to frame climate change as an issue that spans all others. But that won’t work — didn’t work — in a sound-bite campaign.
• Appearance. Appearance should never be a factor in any campaign, but remember Richard Nixon sweating in a 1960 television debate against John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was a smooth operator, easy on the eyes, and displayed confidence. Nixon looked like a wreck.
Inslee is no Nixon, but he also is no Kennedy. During the debates my eyes always followed Inslee whether or not he was speaking. He mostly looked stiff and uncomfortable. When he spoke, he did so with conviction, but it always felt forced.
• No gimmick. Gimmicks shouldn’t be a player for politicians — if you were running a campaign in the 1850s. But in today’s world of TV and social media you better have some attention-grabber. This would be especially true if you are the longest of long shots, as Inslee was.
I kidded with some of my Facebook friends that Inslee should have whipped out his “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” mug during the debates and said something like: “Let’s quit all the political pandering. You see this mug? YOU SEE THIS MUG?! I vow to follow its advice. That’s something the current president doesn’t understand!”
The roar from the crowd would be deafening and he — just maybe — would have beaten the long odds.
Would it have worked? Would some other gimmick to draw attention to him have worked? Probably not. But we know it couldn’t have hurt.
• • •
So the odds were really stacked against Inslee. So why did he run?
I’ve had a few conversations with someone who knows Inslee well and we both agreed there are sometimes other reasons — other than the desire to win — that could drive a person to run despite being hopelessly overmatched.
Giving voice to the climate change issue is one of them. Positioning yourself for a job in D.C. is another. We also need to remember there’s no shame today in losing an election. It simply bolsters one’s name recognition.
Now, I tried multiple times to get in touch with Inslee for this column. But he never got back to me. Still, I’m not giving up. Would love to grab a cup of joe with you, Jay. I’ll buy the coffee. But bring your DDSS mug.
I’ll bring mine.