Obama to Paterson: Quit

President Obama has reportedly asked New York Governor David Paterson to drop his bid to win election in his own right, fearing that he would hurt Democrats down ballot.

President Obama shook Gov. David A. Paterson's hand in December 2008 at an event with the National Governors Association in Philadelphia. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

President Obama shook Gov. David A. Paterson's hand in December 2008 at an event with the National Governors Association in Philadelphia. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself, one of the administration officials said. “Is there concern about the situation in New York? Absolutely,” the second administration official said Saturday evening. “Has that concern been conveyed to the governor? Yes.” The administration officials and the Democratic operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions with the governor were intended to be confidential.

NYT reporters Raymond Hernandez and Jeff Zeleny echo my reaction:

The move against a sitting Democratic governor represents an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president, and is a delicate one, given that Mr. Paterson is one of only two African-American governors in the nation. But Mr. Obama’s political team and other party leaders have grown increasingly worried that the governor’s unpopularity could drag down Democratic members of Congress in New York, as well as the Democratic-controlled Legislature, in next fall’s election.

Obviously, the race issue is a non-factor coming from a biracial president who self-identifies as black. But it is indeed “extraordinary” for a president to involve himself in the selection of his parties candidates for local elections, much less urge incumbents to withdraw. So, why?

The general election is more than a year away, but Mr. Obama and his political team are moving now in part because of signals from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, that he may run for governor, according to Democrats who have spoken with White House officials. Many Democratic leaders believe that Mr. Giuliani’s presence at the top of the Republican ticket could spark enthusiasm among his party’s voters, who might otherwise have little desire to go to the polls.

Leading Democrats in the state have expressed deep concern about Mr. Paterson’s ability to hold on to the office. But most have been wary of openly suggesting he step aside. The White House move could give them cover to abandon Mr. Paterson and endorse another candidate, most likely Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been debating for months whether to take on Mr. Paterson in a primary.

A sitting president has long been considered the nominal “head” of his party. Obama seems to be taking that to its logical conclusion.  There’s not really any reason he shouldn’t use his influence behind the scenes in this manner, although it’s yet another step down the rather depressing road of presidents thinking they actually “run the country” rather than just heading up one of three branches of the central government in a federal system.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Beldar says:

    Paterson’s crime is succinctly summarized in the sub-headline in the print edition: “Governor Lags in Polls.”

    Dr. Joyner, the NYT reporters and editors aren’t just reporting the news here.

    By putting this story on page 1 above the fold, at the top of the far right column in both the NYC and international editions of the paper; by putting it in the first slot of the NYT’s online page; by permitting the two “senior officials” and the “operative” to speak for attribution but anonymously; by repeating their insistence that their principal was not only aware of this move but directed it (creating just the perfect frisson of plausible deniability should that become needed) — the NYT’s reporters and editors have become active co-conspirators in the Obama Administration’s active campaign to drive the sitting governor of the State of New York from the 2010 election.

    Yes, the “senior officials” delivered the kiss of death before the mob-style political hit. But their entry to the crime scene was facilitated by these so-called journalists.

    The one paragraph you quoted is the only hint that anyone at the NYT had any second thoughts about the ethics of what they were doing, the propriety of their cooperation as a tool of the Obama spin campaign. Obviously, if they did have second thoughts, it didn’t slow them down.

    I’m no fan of Gov. Paterson. And I can’t claim to be surprised at the NYT. But every time I think the Obama White House has hit a new high in shamelessness, they surprise me again with something new. The arrogance — that The One is entitled to demand in public that the sitting governor of the most populous East Coast blue state throw himself on his sword (or is it under the bus?) — is breathtaking. And odious.

  2. I am not sure it is quite as extraordinary for the political side of the White House to involve itself into local election strategy. I seem to recall Karl Rove being very active in candidate recruitment that the congressional level during the Bush years. And I don’t imagine he was acting without Bush’s approval. Such moves did require the picking and choosing amongst different Reps for favor.

    Now, the fact that the target is a sitting governor does make this intriguing, although I have to wonder as to the utter uniqueness of the move.

  3. JKB says:

    One wonders if Obama would take this advice if it is given him by party leaders in 2 years or so? But by involving themselves publicly like this, sets them up to bear the blame if the 2010 elections go against the Dems.

  4. One other thought: it will certainly be problematic for Patterson and Obama if Patterson goes on to win…

  5. Beldar says:

    Steven, Rove pulled plenty of strings, and he granted and called in plenty of favors, and he aggressively practiced politics as usual with skill and without apology.

    But Rove never went to the largest newspaper of any state and said, “George W. Bush has decided that your governor” — or “your congressman” or “your senator” — “should drop out of the upcoming election, and he’s authorized me to tell you this (attributing it to a “senior official”) so you can leak it to the voting public of your state.”

    This is orders of magnitude beyond how “politics as usual” is practiced from the White House in state political matters. LBJ didn’t even try to do this sort of stuff in Texas when he was president, and he certainly had his thumb in every pie in the Lone Star State.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I just love it. Obamites are prone to say things like Bush did it so it must be OK. Then when you examine the facts Bush really did not do the thing used to justify Obama’s actions. If Bush had tried to do what Obama is doing in relation to the NY State Governorship, the press would have been all over him. I just amazes me how much of a pass Obama gets here. Kind of like Huffington lite.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    Isn’t the traditional approach to offer the man a job? Even Judas came bearing the gift of a kiss.

  8. mpw280 says:

    Probably can’t offer him a job, he might have tax problems, oh wait that is a qualification in the Obama machine not a negative. mpw

  9. If this works, I have a call list for Mr. Obama.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    Oh my, some people seem to be suffering from a case of the vapors…in case anyone didn’t know it, the president is a politician, so of course if he thinks that Paterson is going to hurt him and his party, he’s going to intervene to try to stop that…if Giuliani does run, he would have a much harder time beating Cuomo than Paterson…really, all this distress over the president’s intervention seems to have a whiff of concern trollishness to it…

  11. Beldar: This is more dramatic, I agree. However, my point was that this all strikes me as a matter of degree rather than being unique.

    Zelsdorf: I am not sure if your comment is focused on me or not, but since I brought the Bush admin, I suspect it is. To clarify: my basic point is that I don’t find it unusual (or even objectionable) that the political side of the White House would be interested in candidacies at the state level. I didn’t criticize Rove for being involved in candidate recruitment in the past. Indeed, simply from the point of view of political party behavior, it is hardly surprising that the leaders of the party would be interested in the success of the party down the line.

  12. kth says:

    One wonders if Obama would take this advice if it is given him by party leaders in 2 years or so?

    It’s really not the same situation, as Paterson was never elected governor. And of course the hypothetical–that Obama will have negatives as high as Paterson’s in NY–is pretty improbable, especially given his expected competition.

    Paterson is unlikely to survive a primary challenge, let alone a general campaign, so Obama is asking him to give up little but a lottery ticket for a second term. But a lot of resources would be saved that could be deployed elsewhere, if Paterson opts out early instead of going down fighting.

  13. kth says:

    Probably the most important parts of the Times report:

    The situation between [Andrew] Cuomo and Mr. Paterson has been a complicated one. Mr. Cuomo is still haunted by the fierce backlash he stirred in 2002 when he decided to run in the Democratic primary for governor against H. Carl McCall, the first serious black candidate for governor.

    Now, Mr. Cuomo effectively has the blessing of the nation’s first black president to run against New York’s first black governor. That will probably neutralize any criticism he may face among the governor’s prominent black allies, including Representative Charles B. Rangel of Harlem, who warned this year that the party would become racially polarized if Mr. Cuomo took on Mr. Paterson.

  14. Maggie Mama says:

    OMG, OMG, OMG: The NY Post: “The beleaguered Democratic governor in a radio interview this morning blamed his troubles on a racist media that he said has taken part in an “orchestrated” effort to get him out of office.”

    OMG, OMG, OMG, OBAMA SAYS DROP OUT!

    OKAY, Y’ALL. IS OBAMA A RACIST ? ? ? ? ? ?

  15. Eric Florack says:

    KTH;
    That seems a point that seems underplayed here. Who gets the nod? Cuomo.

    The current AG up here in the Vampire state, Cuomo, has demonstrated himself more of a ‘team player’ with Obama and his cronies than Patterson has even going back to the Clintons. (Yes, Cuomo is the Attorney General, but up here AG stands for “Aspiring Governor” particularly among Democrats.)

    While I don’t think Obama’s electoral concerns rank high enough to tamper this far out from the 2010 election on their own, consider this from Obama’s 2010 POV: He seems Giuliani being elected over Patterson… and then making a White House run in 2010.

    That along with the need to get Cuomo team player a perch of power in one of the bigger states, and you can understand his move, here… the combo would seem enough to justify the chance he’s taking from a political perspective.

  16. arlenearmy says:

    Beldar:
    Has anyone noticed that Obama muscles in on Paterson & Patrick (the nation’s only 2 black governors). You don’t see him doing this to the nation’s other governors. Obama thinks that he can get away with this & that the nation wont say anything because it looks like a “black on black” ordeal. I don’t think Obama would interfere into the business of a black republican governor (if we had one).

    Dont get me wrong, I wouldn’t vote for Patrick or Paterson. I got my bet on Giuliani. The question is, why is Obama butting into the business of the States. Remember, Obama steered clear of the business of Illinois during the Blago scandal (except for when he took aim at Burris).

    Do we not see a pattern?

  17. just me says:

    I seem to recall Karl Rove being very active in candidate recruitment that the congressional level during the Bush years.

    I think there is a big difference between recruitment and promotion and asking a sitting governor to step out of the race for not reason other than you think it is going to hurt your down ticket candidates. I also think it is unique in that I don’t think a white sitting president of the same party could or would even try to do what Obama is doing. If Hillary had won the white house, I am pretty certain she wouldn’t have tried it. In this case Obama’s race innoculates him against the charges of racism.

    I do think it is probably meddling a step too far, but it isn’t illegal or unethical.

  18. Douglas says:

    A sitting president has long been considered the nominal “head” of his party.

    I never liked that distinction. I think it is politcally naive and harmful to the nation.

    The President of The United States of America is The President of The United States of America first, and to make subservient, or at least to offer the status of the office in service to a party, is something that I find offensive.

    In the General I can tolerate it, though I still find it distasteful, but to use it in a primary to control not the election of individuals who will support a policy, but who will lend control to The President of The United States of America of a domestic political party is disgusting.

    This might be naive on my or his part, but The President of The United States of America should surrender party once elected, or at least minimize it while serving the interests of the nation, and not party power.

    This move, in my opinion, is worse than the “it wasn’t me it was bush” or the neverending strawmen that fit every social order who hasn’t bowed to the party, or even the race baiting.

    This is a very disturbing escalation in my mind, and I hope it fails in this instance, and in 2010, and 2012.

  19. arlenearmy says:

    Just Me:

    Obama appointed himself as “king of the blacks”. When Paterson spoke his mind, Obama tried to slap Paterson back in the coral.

    The latest is that Paterson bucks Obama. He vows that he will not withdraw.

    This will be very interesting political race in NY, as there is a Sharpton & “home-grown black folk factor” to all this. Though blacks overwhelming voted for Obama, they still consider Obama as a foreigner (African/Kenyan). Race baiting will be injected as the push for a non-black candidate is pushed forward.

    See, Sharpton & Jesse Jackson don’t really like Obama. Remember, Jackson was the one who said that Obama’s balls needs to be cut off.

  20. MDr says:

    The Obama WH is just trying to correct a symptom/eliminate a patient (not provide a cure) for a disease they’ve so aggreviously spread – (lack of) vetting. Who stood up and questioned the “suitability” of Paterson before he was whisked into the Governor’s mansion? The MSM? I guess there are some drawbacks to having lapdog sycophants.

  21. kth says:

    MDr, Paterson wasn’t appointed to the governor’s office, but succeeded Eliot Spitzer after the latter resigned because of the prostitution scandal. Paterson was “vetted” by the NY voters who elected him lieutenant governor.

    (apologies if you were joking, sarcasm doesn’t always come through on the internets.)

  22. This is kind of interesting. I’m getting a chance to watch as Republicans actually manufacture the manufactured outrage.

    I like the way you guys keep trying, never giving up. Surely there’s some outrage here somewhere? Right? Come on guys, one more time, let’s go out there and find some outrage for the gipper.

  23. sam says:

    @arlene

    Obama appointed himself as “king of the blacks”

    I’m afraid you’re behind the curve Ms. Arlene. We have it on good authority around here that he’s appointed himself King of Us All. Try and keep up.

  24. arlenearmy says:

    MDr
    Obama’s clearly the lapdog sycophant of the congressional black caucus (CBC).

    1. Obama tried to eliminate Burris, but he quickly recoil when the CBC pushed for Burris to be seated.

    2. Obama supported ACORN & appointed a Republican Sen. Gregg to be in charge of the census; but CBC opposed it. Obama buckled under & Gregg quit. So ACORN got the funds & were positioned to do the census. Then ACORN got busted & senate voted to not let them do census. There’s only 1 CBC member in the Senate – Burris. He voted in favor of ACORN.

    3. When house voted to defund ACORN, the CBC defended them, even though Obama just kicked ACORN under the bus.

  25. anjin-san says:

    I’m getting a chance to watch as Republicans actually manufacture the manufactured outrage.

    With the economy pulling out of the Bush Decession under Obama, what else do they have? Sarah Palin at Values Voters? Oh, wait, she was a no-show.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    Though blacks overwhelming voted for Obama, they still consider Obama as a foreigner (African/Kenyan).

    Project much, sweetie?

  27. DCE says:

    Why is anyone surprised? It is politics the “Chicago Way,” is it not?

  28. TangoMan says:

    Has anyone noticed that Obama muscles in on Paterson & Patrick (the nation’s only 2 black governors). You don’t see him doing this to the nation’s other governors.

    Michael Steele noticed that President Obama hasn’t urged Governor Corzine to quit, even though his approval rating is at 39%.

  29. anjin-san says:

    Michael Steele

    Citing a man who is a complete joke could lead people to conclude that you are a, well, you know…

  30. arlenearmy says:

    An Interested Party:

    Im not projecting too much.

    Let me take you down memory lane:
    Blacks overwhelmingly voted for the 1st black president – namely William Jefferson Clinton. Then they wind up calling him a racist… and Geraldine Ferraro got the same treatment.

    But I do project that Bertha Lewis is getting ready to turn on somebody. Hard core woman like that aint gonna go down alone.

  31. arlenearmy says:

    @TangoMan:

    Michael Steele noticed that President Obama hasn’t urged Governor Corzine to quit, even though his approval rating is at 39%.

    ——-

    Michael Steele is not the only one who noticed this. Many rank & file black democrats have noticed this as well & are already upset. No doubt Giuliani is licking his chops.

  32. arlenearmy:

    Before I point out that you’re a racist idiot I have to ask whether you are mentally ill.

  33. DL says:

    Obama’s just doing this because Paterson is black….

    When, oh when, will all this racism stop?

  34. G.A.Phillips says:

    Before I point out that you’re a racist idiot I have to ask whether you are mentally ill.

    lol,Harry, stick to what your good at–> it rubs the lotion on it’s head.

    Calling every one except your 1 out of every 2 black baby aborting Dear leader a racist isn’t it….

  35. sam says:

    But, but, but arlene and fellow Obamaphobes, I thought there was no racism at all in the US any more, and that it’s solely (soully?) lodged in the hearts of Democrat puppet masters. Do I have that right?

  36. hcantrall says:

    So we really can’t debate or argue anything for the remainder of Obama’s time in the WH. It doesn’t matter what anyone who doesn’t like Obama’s policies says, they’re automatically a racist.
    I think it’s shady that Obama is trying to get Paterson to not run for Governor but it’s most likely not anything any other president hasn’t done already. Both sides are shady, they cheat on their wives, do drugs, drink too much, break the law etc because they can. Lets not play the game where my guy is less of a creep than yours is, they’re all pretty equal up there.

  37. Perhaps Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) could offer his opinion on the White House supporting incumbents.

  38. arlenearmy says:

    @Michael Reynolds

    Before I point out that you’re a racist idiot I have to ask whether you are mentally ill.

    I oppose Obama & his policies. So I guess according to Jimmy Carter & you, that makes me a racist. Question – are you a “racer” ?

  39. G.A.Phillips says:

    You see the problem with trying to argue seriously with liberals, is that they evade the true problems facing this country, because they support them.
    They call you a racist
    They call you a terror suspect
    They call you a extremest, Ha.

    I call on President Obama to end abortion now!!!

    END THAT PROGRESSIVE RACIST NAZI KKK A*S S**T NOW!!!!

  40. An Interested Party says:

    Im not projecting too much.

    Oh really? Then show us some proof that black people consider the president a “foreigner (African/Kenyan)”…

  41. arlenearmy says:

    @An Interested Part

    Oh really? Then show us some proof that black people consider the president a “foreigner (African/Kenyan)”…

    I can’t possibly show you what black folks discuss verbally amongst themselves, but I can show you an indication that blacks were not accepting of Obama as a “real” black person.

    http://www.zimbio.com/2008+Presidential+Candidates/articles/1099/BARACK+OBAMA+BOOED+NAACP+GATHERING

    Lets say that for the moment, Obama’s considered to be an honorary black on probation. Blacks felt he wasn’t “black enough” because they consider him to be Kenyan. But they say he’s blacker than Hillary.