I’m a fan, in theory, of the idea of Jay Inslee running for president. Not because I expect the actual Jay Inslee to ever be president. But I like that he’s taken up the cause of a perennially ignored issue, climate change.
Awkward, then, that he was just beaten out of the gate on his sole reason for political being by one of the airier candidates in the field.
Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman whose longshot candidacy has felt more like therapy for a midlife crisis, blindsided the field Monday by releasing a serious, 2,500-word policy plan for tackling global warming in the coming decades.
It’s “the most wide-ranging climate plan debuted by any Democratic presidential candidate in the 2020 race,” exclaimed The Atlantic Monthly magazine.
OK, you may be saying, so what? It’s just a plan. But what happened next was telling. Instead of saying “great, just as I’d hoped, now we’re talking climate,” Inslee instead attacked. And hit himself.
“We will not defeat climate change with empty rhetoric, borrowed rhetoric or by taking fossil-fuel money,” the Inslee campaign huffed.
Inslee’s people were upset that O’Rourke had cribbed one of Inslee’s best climate lines. But as Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner found out, Inslee himself stole that line years ago — from none other than former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn!
Can’t all you climate-change activists just get along?
Seriously, the Inslee campaign, which officially got going two months ago, already feels on its heels. He has yet to put forward a climate-change plan of his own, perhaps because of his struggles as Washington governor in passing either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade emission scheme. And now he’s allowed O’Rourke to bigfoot him on his signature issue.
Inslee’s early campaign is also pretty unorthodox, almost like he has no intention of ever trying to get votes. He’s got next to no staff or presence yet in any of the early primary states (by contrast, The Des Moines Register reports that middle-of-the-pack Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren already has 50 paid staffers and field organizers in Iowa, which votes first Feb. 2).
A poll released Tuesday out of New Hampshire, which votes second after Iowa, suggests his climate-only message hasn’t yet excited any voters. I mean that “any” literally. The Boston Globe surveyed 800 voters, naming 24 potential Democratic candidates, and Inslee was one of only two to get zero takers — not a single vote. This means that despite holding seven events in New Hampshire this year, he somehow trails a host of candidates I’d never heard of, such as Wayne Messam, Eric Swalwell and Oprah’s spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson.
True, it’s early. The governor did just have a great legislative session, so he could bounce back (or rather, bounce at all). But in politics it can get late in a hurry. The Inslee camp is supposed to roll out more concrete climate ideas soon. It better be better than Beto, is all I have to say. Or what’s the point?
Also struggling is our state’s other prospective presidential candidate, possible independent Howard Schultz — remember him? The former Starbucks chairman is still out there denouncing the left and right and selling books. But without a party nominating process, which brings the excitement of the horse race, Schultz risks being forgotten back at the barn.
That he’s been putting forth some of the more vapid, consultant-driven bromides ever heard in politics is part of the problem.
One example, from last week, was an ad Schultz paid for on Facebook. It featured a woman’s face, with the screen half-blue and half-red, and the slogan: “The majority of Americans aren’t Democrats or Republicans, the majority of Americans are Americans. Fix The System. Howardschultz.com.”
First off, I’m pretty sure a hundred percent of Americans are Americans. It says so right in the name. But that somebody, maybe Schultz himself, thought this circular banality was the right stuff to ignite a presidential campaign, well, it’s like something out of the mouth of Chauncey Gardiner in that old movie “Being There.” But that was a parody!
Got to pace ourselves here. Nine months til the first votes, and we’re already beyond satire.