The Logic of Putting Out a Hit on a Dead Man

After word leaked that President Obama had asked Governor David Paterson not to run in 2010, Steve Kornacki said the White House had “gone and made a bad situation much, much worse.”

By signaling its lack of support for Paterson now, a year before the 2010 primary, Obama has consigned the Governor to an entire year’s worth of lame-duck status, and worse. Before this weekend, Paterson could cling to a certain plausible deniability about backing down–on Sunday, he showed he’s still trying–but no one seems to be buying it anymore.

The Times seems to think Paterson was amenable to bowing out when Obama emissaries met with him last Monday, but—in a typically bizarre Paterson move–by Thursday, he was annoucing a new campaign manager, Richard Fife, and touting Mr. Fife’s credentials in the Obama campaign.

By Saturday, word had “leaked” from an operation that famously hates leaks.

So why now?

Perhaps the White House didn’t believe Paterson would follow its orders, after his recalcitrance on Hillary Clinton’s senatorial seat—which the White House hoped would go to someone with a more secure House seat than Kirsten Gillibrand.

Perhaps they were tired of Paterson dragging them into unwanted headlines. In June, the Governor accused his detractors, and those of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, of racism. And he said “next victim on the list” was the President–a comment that drew a stern rebuke from the White House, which has aggressively tried to avoid any such discussion.

In fact, the White House might be trying to preemptively quell any such accusations of racism in the upcoming governor’s race. As the first black president, Obama could be providing cover for Andrew Cuomo and his supporters to abandon the state’s first black governor, without subjecting Cuomo to the charges that he is–-once again—trying to deny a black man the governor’s mansion.

After all, the President has shown an aversion to messy primaries–he cleared the field for Senator Gillibrand, after all–and he might think that consolidating support behind Cuomo is worth burying a Governor with one foot already in the grave.

Or maybe Patrick Gaspard has simply developed a taste for this sort of thing.

The easy way out would normally have been to offer Paterson a post in the Obama administration. But the one man even more dangerous to the Democratic ticket–controversial Senator Pedro Espada, Jr.–happens to be next in the line of succession.

And then there’s Rudy. Obama seems to be rattling his considerable saber in the direction of Rudy Giuliani, who has said he’ll make a decision in the next month or two about whether to run against Rick Lazio for the Republican nomination. By condemning Paterson now, the White House is letting Giuliani know exactly who he is up against—and it’s not a governor with a 20 percent approval rating.

On a personal level, the timing couldn’t be more awkward: Paterson and Cuomo will both attend Obama’s speech in Troy today.

The Logic of Putting Out a Hit on a Dead Man