Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is taking a hard look at a run for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination. He and his wife, Connie Schultz, say they’ll make a decision in the new year, but they’re doing a lot of the legwork now, including media interviews like this long piece published at Buzzfeed last week. Here’s an excerpt:
“We really weren’t expecting this,” Schultz said of the calls for Brown to run. “I love being married to a man who doesn’t look in the mirror and see the next president of the United States. It’s never been his aspiration.” Still, she admits to disappointment when he wasn’t chosen as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016. “And believe me,” she added, “the idea of being second lady — even the title? Blech. But country first on this.”
The decision to run for president is major, but not entirely unlike the one they made in 2006 when he first ran for Senate.
“We were talking about what got him in last time,” Schultz told me. “Are we getting too comfortable? That’s weighing on us a bit.” They’re really lucky, Schultz said. They love their house and neighborhood, their grandchildren, their jobs.
“But that’s not enough. Perhaps that’s what, more than anything else, will end up pushing us in.”
From the Buzzfeed piece, I learned that Brown’s slogan is “the dignity of work,” a phrase I’ve always found obnoxious because I’ve only heard it mouthed by useless tits like Marco Rubio, who has never done a hard day’s work in his life. But the article explains it’s a phrase MLK used in a speech:
When I asked Schultz how it had emerged as a slogan for them, she asked if Brown had told me about the book “that Kamala gave him” — Kamala being California Sen. Kamala Harris, another potential Democratic primary rival in 2020. She then retrieved one of their several copies of All Labor Has Dignity, a collection of MLK speeches that Harris gave Brown last year, their first as Senate colleagues. Schultz lit up as she talked about the gift, which her husband appreciated and which she allowed might have “helped him clarify that message a bit.”
Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, is the focus of a piece published in Politico earlier this week — another media availability that signals seriousness about a 2020 run for Brown. Schultz describes revulsion at Trump as a primary motivator and is concerned — but unafraid — about the effect a run might have on her family:
“I just want to be clear on this,” Schultz said. “Anybody who attempts to go after our family, it is going to be double-barrel. I mean, you don’t go after children, you don’t go after our kids. There’s no such thing as the ‘acceptable’ family—especially after we’ve put up with the Trump family. Nobody’s going to tell us what it means to be our family.
Yep. I admire Schultz and think it would be something to have a first lady with her attitude, not least because the “blech” attributed to Schultz above indicates she’d chafe under the title. I love Schultz’s utter contempt for Trump:
As a journalist, she’s alarmed. “I worry about my fellow journalists,” she said. “I worry that they’re going to die.”
As a Christian, she’s appalled. “I don’t know how they look at Donald Trump—I guess they figure, well, he’s straight, he’s not gay, so that’s not a problem. He’s fooling around like crazy, he hates women, but he’s not gay. I don’t know how they justify it.”
As a mother, she’s repulsed. “This is the guy we warned our daughters not to date. Our straight daughters. Stay away from that guy.”
As a citizen, she’s dismayed. “Any of us who came from any history of domestic violence—we know the signs of that. We get fearful. You’re edgy. Now the entire country knows what it’s like to go through abuse.”
I asked her whether she wanted Brown to run. “I don’t know,” she said. She wasn’t trying to be evasive or coy, she said, and I believed her.
“I know this,” she said. “If he survives the primary, he will beat Trump. And that’s certainly what fuels my thinking on this right now—but I don’t know yet.”
In a sense, the prospect of a Brown candidacy feels like fighting misperceptions of the last war: a genuine economic populist to counter a fake one. “Economic anxiety” didn’t give us Trump; sexism, racism, xenophobia and stupidity did. To the extent economic anxiety figured at all, it was a garnish, not the main course.
But Brown and Schultz have a Rust Belt point of view on that question. In the Politico piece, Schultz sympathetically describes laid-off factory workers as being conned by Trump. She thinks they’d listen to a guy like Brown, and he won Ohio comfortably while other Democrats lost, so maybe she’s right.
Another factor: Brown is a 60-something white man who would be running in an era where millions of women feel cheated and disrespected by the Trump admin and in a party where much of the energy comes from a younger, more diverse base. I don’t think being an older white dude is an impossible barrier for Brown, but it’ll likely be a factor.
It’s too early to say what message people will want to hear in 2020. I still think “Come with me if you want to live” has a lot of potential in the Trump era — personally, it resonates with me more than “dignity of work.”
But Brown is a solid Democrat who is right about most issues. He’s got plenty of experience, and IMO, he passes the crucial “running to do something rather than be someone” test. What do y’all think of a Sherrod Brown candidacy?