Deval Patrick explains why he won’t run for president in 2020

The former Massachusetts governor cited the "cruelty of our elections process."

7-15-18 - Richardson, TX - Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick campaigns for Colin Allred (background center), who is running for governor in Texas, during an appearance at Allred's campaign headquarters in Richardson, Texas.  Gov. Patrick is considering a 2020 presidential run. (Kim Leeson for The Boston Globe)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick at a campaign stop for Colin Allred in Richardson, Texas. –Kim Leeson / The Boston Globe

There are a lot of potential Democratic candidates thinking about running for president in 2020. Deval Patrick is no longer one of them.

The former Massachusetts governor confirmed reports this week that he had decided against launching a presidential campaign. In a statement Thursday morning on his Facebook page, Patrick attributed his decision, at least in part, to the “cruelty of our elections process.”

“I’ve been overwhelmed by advice and encouragement from people from all over the country, known and unknown,” he said. “Humbled, in fact. But knowing that the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey, was more than I could ask.”

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In an interview Thursday morning on WBUR, the 62-year-old Chicago native also announced that his wife, Diane, was recently diagnosed with Stage 1 uterine cancer. While he said her prognosis was “excellent,” Patrick said the development forced them to reflect on the tolls a presidential race would take on their family.

“It’s the sort of thing that focuses the mind, and really caused us to come to grips with some of the things that our children and our extended family were telling us about their pride and excitement in our willingness to take this on, but their own personal reticence about being a part of it,” he said.

Patrick added that “the process can be cruel for the people you love,” referring to the “trivializing ways that, in a competitive campaign, people go after your family.” He said “every family has its warts, has its issues” — perhaps alluding to his brother-in-law’s legal troubles — and things that family members not involved with the campaign would rather not be subject to high-profile attacks, particularly in light of the 2016 presidential campaign.

“It is true that if there were any rules, they’re all gone now,” he said, adding that his campaign would have tried to highlight “decorum,” “respect,” and “a fealty to truth.”

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Patrick had openly admitted that he was considering a presidential bid, amid encouragement from many people in former President Barack Obama’s circle. But he also expressed doubts about whether there was a place for him in what’s expected to be a crowded, frenetic race for the Democratic nomination.

“It’s hard to see how you even get noticed in such a big, broad field without being shrill, sensational, or a celebrity — and I’m none of those things and I’m never going to be any of those things,” he told former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod during a podcast interview in September.

Patrick told WBUR that he was at peace with the decision not to run. Now a social investment manager at Bain Capitol, he declined to say whether he was ruling out ever seeking public office again. But after spending the midterms campaigning for candidates across the country, Patrick said he plans to remain involved in politics and thinks Democrats “have a clear chance not just to win [Americans’] votes but to win their respect.”

“America feels more ready than usual for big answers to our big challenges,” he wrote on Facebook. “That’s an exciting moment that I hope we don’t miss. I hope to help in whatever way I can. It just won’t be as a candidate for president.”

Read his full statement Thursday below:

After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I’ve decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me. I’ve been overwhelmed by advice and encouragement from people from all over the country, known and unknown. Humbled, in fact. But knowing that the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey, was more than I could ask.

The past few months on the road in support of congressional candidates — from Texas to Mississippi to New Jersey to Georgia to North and South Carolina to Florida to Illinois — have been affirming. People across America are coming off the sidelines and getting engaged, taking responsibility for their own civic and political future. That’s exciting and important. I hope we keep giving them positive reasons to do so. The people I met don’t fit in a box. They are much more than some oversimplified “voter demographic,” with all the presumptions that go with that. They are living unique lives, in search, in not so many words, of economic security and social justice and meaning. And they sense that most of the time most of the political establishment sees only a cartoon version of them or overlooks them altogether.

Democrats have a clear chance not just to win their votes but to win their respect and earn their help by showing up everywhere, engaging everyone, and making our case. Our case for opportunity, equality and fair play has its roots in the founding aspirations of America. And it turns out those values still matter to people. That is our civic faith, and we’ll have to take care to keep it now — because what’s at stake today is not just the case for our party or the qualifications of a given candidate, but the character of the country.

America feels more ready than usual for big answers to our big challenges. That’s an exciting moment that I hope we don’t miss. I hope to help in whatever way I can. It just won’t be as a candidate for president. To all those who helped Diane and me think this through, thank you. We are grateful.

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