Senior Editor Peter Kadzis and politcal reporter Adam Reilly took stock of the year in politics. Below is an email exchange between them.
Peter Kadzis: November's election yielded two distinct results. Statewide, we saw an endorsement of the status quo. Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin, an old Democratic war horse if ever there was one, garnered more votes that anyone else. Attorney General Maura Healey, a progressive darling for sure, finished a close second; followed by two other incumbents, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who, as we all know, is a potential left-progressive candidate for president.
Ideologically, there is no through line here, but that brings me to my second point. Galvin and Baker illustrate essentially moderate tendencies. Healey and Warren comfort with a tilt to the left. Voters in and around Boston and Cambridge, however, embraced the left with few reservations: Witness the victories of Ayanna Presley for Congress (stunning), Rachael Rollins for Suffolk County DA (unexpected), and Nika Elugardo and Jon Santiago, who defeated members of House Speaker Robert DeLeo's leadership team (noteworthy).
As significant as these wins were for ideological progressives, the fact that this second cohort of politicos are people of color could mark a tipping point in Boston municipal politics. How events will play out on Beacon Hill is beyond the ken of my crystal ball. I'm looking to see who DeLeo names to his inner circle before I even hazard a guess.
Adam Reilly: I actually see more of a through line than you do, Peter. Seems to me the unifying impulse in all the races you've mentioned is an intense antipathy by Massachusetts voters to the Trump presidency and a desire to act decisively in response to it that's manifested itself in a variety of different ways.
Here's what I mean: In the statewide races, voters hedged by re-electing both Baker — the platonic ideal of a reasonable anti-Trump Republican — and Warren and Healey, who share a more left-leaning, combative stance when it comes to the president. In the local races you mentioned, meanwhile, the hottest action came in the Democratic primary, where progressives sent a strong message. They're both enraged and terrified by the direction of the country, and they want the Democratic Party to respond with a suitable sense of urgency. Add it all up, and you've got a variety of outcomes stemming (I think) from the same root impulse.
But let's go back to Warren for a moment. As we've discussed on the podcast, she's taken a beating in the press lately when it comes to her presidential prospects and has also seen some pretty disappointing poll numbers coming out of both New Hampshire and Iowa. I'd assumed Warren would be one of the front runners heading into 2020. What gives?
Kadzis: I agree. However, I long ago discounted Trump's relevance to state-wide politics. Trump voters today fall into three camps: A) those who feel societally dispossessed for a number of valid reasons and those who some consider cult members; B) the rich and well off who benefit from the Republican party's massive wealth redistribution upward; and C) a small but hardy band of intellectuals who appear to have been driven insane by their opposition to things like identity politics, or who favor the ongoing right-wing takeover of the judiciary now in progress. There was an intense anti-Trump moral fervor in Greater Boston, however, that fueled Boston City CouncilorAyanna Pressley's defeat of 10-term incumbent Mike Capuano of Somerville, who was a very able — if flat-footed — public servant. This is where your anti-Trump sentiment was a powerful coagulant.
As for Warren, I was so insistent four or five years ago that Warren wouldn't run in 2016 that I don't want to be too dismissive now. 2020 is not a year to get ahead of yourself. Warren did shoot herself in the foot with her "I-Have-Cherokee-Blood 2.0" initiative. It re-enraged conservatives, left the great middle scratching their heads, and ticked off left-wing identitarians.
Reilly: OK, you've convinced me. I'll hold off on compiling my Warren postmortem for another few weeks.
That said, what other #mapoli story lines interest you most heading into 2019? I'll give you mine first: What becomes of Rep. Seth Moulton's career now that he's tried, and failed, to prevent Nancy Pelosi from returning to the House speakership? Because I like to jump to conclusions, and because I saw firsthand at a town hall in Amesbury how Moulton struggled to explain himself to his critics — including one older woman whose allegation of ageism Moulton totally seemed to miss — I'm tempted to assume the worst-case scenario, at least from Moulton's point of view: In a Democrat-controlled House packed with important Massachusetts players, he becomes an afterthought, or even a non-entity.
Then again, Moulton got his start by picking a fight (unseating former Rep. John Tierney) that few people thought he'd win. And he's shown a knack over the past few years for getting his message out through the media — thanks partly to the fact that unlike almost all of his colleagues, he can talk about military matters from a veteran's perspective. So while I'll be watching to see if he gets that promised primary challenge from the left in 2020, I also think it's way too soon to write him off, as badly as the Pelosi battle seemed to go.
Kadzis: When it comes to Moulton, we are one. His opposition to Pelosi appears to have turned Barbara L'Italien, the outgoing state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate, into an ambulance chaser. But we'll have to wait and see if an opponent emerges. Even by political standards, Moulton is not particularly self-aware. Then again, Harvard University and the U.S. Marine Corps are not exactly hotbeds of self effacement.
Moulton's misstep — if indeed he made one — was to personalize the struggle. In the last several weeks he might have said something such as, "This isn't about personalities. It's about proper representation. America may be geezer-friendly, but to have three of them calling the shots in the House is a bit much," or words to that effect. By this time next year, odds are this will be a footnote.
As for the bigger picture, the state legislature's fiscal juvenile delinquency, which has been masked by DeLeo's strict discipline and robust tax revenues from a solid economy, will no doubt again surface. It's a bit early to predict how or when. The forces of Progressiveness, Inc. really blew the so-called "millionaires' tax" by drafting it in a way that couldn't pass the muster of the Supreme Judicial Court. As a result, many in the legislature are going to be twisting themselves into pretzels to come up with funding for very legitimate causes, such as K-12 education.
Also, keep an eye on the 2019 Boston municipal elections. Will the results suggest anything about a possible challenger to Mayor Marty Walsh? Or not? The staying power of modern incumbent Boston mayors has proven to be more potent than the pope's. My unsolicited advice to Walsh is that if he wants to keep that precedent intact, he should broaden his inner circle of advisers. Kevin White had such a talent pool that in the years after he left office his people became forces to be reckoned with in the local establishment and, in Barney Frank’s case, Washington. Ray Flynn knew what he didn’t know and forged a diverse and loyal network throughout the city.
I’m not going to accuse former Mayor Tom Menino of being cosmopolitan, but he knew how to wield caution as a strategic weapon. His speech impediment masked a powerful intelligence when it came to municipal affairs. Menino didn’t always know what he didn’t know, but his intuition saved him more than once. And when all else failed, he broke out the brass knuckles. The fresh currents wafting through local politics suggest that it’s not just what Walsh does in the next 18 months that will matter, but how he does it.
Reilly: Glad you circled back to Boston politics, because I'm fascinated by the question of what the impulses we saw in 2018 could portend at the city level. Like a lot of other people, I've been craving a competitive Boston mayoral contest for years, but with the exception of Walsh vs. John Connolly — which was a lot closer than people remember! — it hasn’t happened.
You have a much better feel for this stuff than I do, since you’re a Boston native who's covered city politics for years, but here's my take: If people are still craving leadership that's new, stylistically and demographically, the next time Walsh seeks re-election, a broader inner circle won't be enough to keep Walsh safe if he gets a strong challenger. My gut tells me the biggest threat would be a sharp woman of color capable of critiquing what Walsh has and hasn't done in a more effective way than Tito Jackson did back in 2017. (Yes, l'm thinking of Michelle Wu.) But I'm getting ahead of myself. What tea leaves should people plan to read when Boston votes next year?
Kadzis: You’re too kind. And I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one fearful of getting ahead of myself. If Walsh were to expand his inner circle and listen and act accordingly, he might forestall a strong challenger. Wu is the most mentioned. And, despite my affection for Jackson as an unguided missile, I think Wu is more highly regarded. However, high intellectual regard doesn't win elections. And Wu, who is smart and sincere (an unusual combination), knows this. Nobody is going to make a decision about taking on Walsh until he or she sees what story the 2019 elections has to tell.
Despite what we and others on the sidelines think, running Boston is largely about getting the trash collected, the snow removed, the parks in reasonable shape, and so on. These mundane but logistically challenging tasks establish a psychic foundation for voter contentment. I'd suggest that anyone interested in Boston mayoral politics focus for the next year or so on issues, as opposed to personalities — especially schools, development, housing, perhaps even the environment, which I sense is picking up traction that just might resonate at some neighborhood polling stations.
Reilly: Before we wrap up here, Peter, let me mention one more political subplot I'll be watching with great interest in the new year. Can we still claim Mitt Romney as an honorary Massachusetts politician? After all, he may be Utah's senator now, but he was our governor not too long ago.
Whatever your answer, it's going to be fascinating to see how Romney comports himself in the Senate when it comes to assenting to — or pushing back on — Trump's policies and personal excesses. That speech Romney gave back in March 2016, in an attempt to derail Trump's march to the Republican nomination, is one of the most remarkable political texts I've ever seen. The previous GOP nominee called his likely successor a "phony" and a "fraud" and added, "He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president." It was, in my opinion, the most forceful denunciation of Trump that we saw in 2016, from either Republicans or Democrats.
What, then, to make of that now classic photo snapped a few months later, after Trump won the presidency, in which asheepish-looking Romney was captured sitting in Trump Tower and discussing the Secretary of State job? Well, you can certainly accuse Romney of shedding his convictions in the name of personal ambition. I'm inclined to a more generous read, though. I think Romney still saw Trump as a menace to American democracy, but thought he might be able to serve the country by curtailing his worst impulses from the inside. When we see when and how Romney engages Trump from his new Senate perch, I'll have a much better sense of whether I'm giving the former governor too much credit. For what it's worth, 64 percent of Utah voters say they'd like to see their new senator stand up to the president.
Kadzis: Excellent examples. Despite instances of craven ambition, Romney is at heart a decent man. When he ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994 and before he announced for governor in 2002, on several occasions I spent time with him in social situations, often in the company of members of his family. He was very different from the "Saturday Night Live" version the public knows so well. Given Trump’s troubles, this should be a moment for him. But I wonder if his challenge will be the Republican party more than Trump. God knows that the Democrats have their problems, but at this moment, the GOP is in a category all its own.