Sure, it’s early. Sure, a lot of voters aren’t really paying attention to the race yet, and sure, Tom Reilly has lots of time to recover, blah blah blah.
But at the end of the day, this race isn’t about who runs the slickest campaign, or who did or didn’t pay his or her taxes on time, or even who has the longest and most honorable career in public service. It’s about who can command enough of the respect of the people of Massachusetts, and can work effectively enough with the state legislature, the congressional delegation, and a host of other factions and special interest groups, to make the people of this state better off. And guess what the set of skills to accomplish those goals is usually known as?
That’s right – political skills. And so when Tom Reilly tells us that “this is a whole different level of politics, and it’s never been my strong suit,” the people who think he’d be a great Governor should start to worry. No one is questioning whether Tom Reilly has had an honorable career in public service – of course he has, or whether his beliefs about making the lives of “ordinary people” better are heartfelt – of course they are. But if Tom Reilly himself is telling us (and, alas, showing us) that he has poor political skills and political instincts, there is a serious question as to whether, should he win, he’ll be able to do much.
Brian McGrory hits the nail on the head:
his problem is the governorship is an inherently political job. The governor has to practice politics with the Legislature, with mayors, with Washington, with special interests. Politics is about brokering and compromising, parrying and thrusting an agenda to its fullest extent.
Public service isn’t always played out in the kind of courtrooms where Reilly has spent his career. It happens at a podium or behind a closed door or in a particularly charming phone call to a partisan foe. It’s knowing when to give and how to take.
If Reilly is confessing ineptitude or distaste for this, then it’s time to start focusing on the other people in the race.
I’d rewrite the second paragraph of that quote. Politics is never played out in courtrooms – certainly not in the criminal courtrooms in which Reilly has spent the vast majority of his career. Litigation – which is most of what a District Attorney and an Attorney General do – is essentially reactive: something bad happens, and you figure out how to deal with it, either through negotiation or a lawsuit or a criminal prosecution. Governing, to accomplish anything worthwhile, has got to be proactive – you have to make things happen, not wait for them to happen to you. Is there really anything in Tom Reilly’s background to suggest that he can be that kind of Governor? So far, not so much.