Frank Bruni likes Gina Raimondo. He likes to have eggplant parmigiana with her. He likes to remind her that they eat eggplant parmigiana together. And if you’re wondering where this is going, the answer is: I don’t know. I don’t think Frank Bruni knows. I’m not sure Governor Raimondo knows.
Because Bruni’s recent column is really inexplicable. Charitably, it likely exists to help Raimondo raise thousands from corporate donors for the Democratic Governors Association that she now chairs, something that may be more difficult now that popular Democrats (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren) are talking about taxing the rich (which is popular). So this column allows rich donors to give to Raimondo, secure in the knowledge that hey, they have a friend.
But it also includes pointless asides, like this:
[Raimondo] isn’t flirting with — and hasn’t fantasized about — a presidential run in 2020.
Any Rhode Islander has to laugh at the “hasn’t fantasized about” part. Raimondo’s name has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate since she ran for General Treasurer in 2010. But for the last decade, the idea that Raimondo would someday run for president has always been a fantasy. Her particular brand of pairing cautious centrism with acting progressive for campaign season only isn’t particularly popular, and anyway, Andrew Cuomo does it better and is Governor of New York. There was little evidence in 2010 it was going to be the way the Democratic party goes, and in the Trump era, there’s even less reason.
Anyway, back to the column. Talking about income inequality, Raimondo says this:
“I fall in the camp of: Let’s fix it… Let’s embrace business to come to the table. Someone needs to make the case that it’s in the best interest of businesses and wealthy people to be better corporate citizens. Pay for health care. Help people get their college degree. Pay for job training.”
It’s almost literally the exact same thing she said to Bruni in 2014:
“I fall into the camp that income inequality is the biggest problem we face…”
…She said that she has told Wall Street titans point blank that they should be paying higher federal taxes and leveling the playing field, but with this message: “I need you to double down on America. We need you…”
I’m not even sure Raimondo is even really disagreeing with where things are in the Democratic Party. In Bruni’s 2014 column, she talks approvingly of Warren and as the above quote shows, says she’s pro-higher federal taxes. But in 2019, she’s wincing at higher federal taxes, but essentially saying what the progressives are saying: that the wealthy need to pay for things like healthcare, college, and jobs.
It’s just that, in Rhode Island, Raimondo isn’t making the wealthy pay for any of those things. She doesn’t even appear to be asking them to pay. If anything, it seems like she’s been paying them to provide jobs (Bruni talks that up as a success).
Look, where Raimondo goes after being governor is still an open question. Perhaps this column is giving her options for that? I’m hard-pressed to think of where a potential future Democratic president might slot her into a cabinet position (Commerce, maybe).
If a Senate seat opens up, what stops, say, David Cicilline from running for it? With a Democratic House majority and the chair of the antitrust subcommittee, Cicilline stands to become a very prominent figure in Democratic politics. The troubles of 2010 and 2012 are largely forgotten at this point. But this column doesn’t seem like it will help. Why needlessly position herself in opposition to figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Elizabeth Warren, when she’s previously embraced them?
Finally, let’s call out the title of the Bruni column: “The Loneliness of the Moderate Democrat” — if the Governor is feeling lonely, she should just go hang out with the Democratic leadership of the two chambers of the General Assembly, who also call themselves moderates. Or the minority leaders of those chambers, who are basically moderates.
The charade of the Raimondo administration has always been that she’s positioned herself as a breed apart; neither a progressive champion nor a member of the Democratic Party’s Old Guard. But the reality has been that Raimondo has governed as pretty much any member of Rhode Island’s establishment would: with a blatant disregard of those truly in need and an open door to every monied interest that walks in. If she truly feels that she’s getting “whacked” from both the left and right, she has no one to blame but herself.