Inslee: I suddenly realized I'm not going to win the nomination

And then there were … twenty-two? Thirty-four? Eleventy-seven? Jay Inslee told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that he will withdraw from the Democratic presidential primaries, one week shy of a debate qualifying deadline the Washington governor had no hope of meeting. Inslee’s impact matched his polling — and both were the problem:

In a letter to contributors as well as with Maddow, Inslee credited himself with putting climate change front and center in the race:

“In recent presidential cycles, climate change got little attention from the candidates, the DNC, or the media,” he wrote to his supporters. “We vowed to change that in a big way and succeeded. Many of the campaigns started with little attention to climate, but since our campaign began, we’ve seen almost every serious candidate put out a climate plan; we’ve seen climate come up in both debates; and we now have two networks hosting nationally-televised climate forums in September.”

There are a couple of problems with this claim. First, Tom Steyer probably had more to do with those “gains” than Inslee did, even before Steyer jumped into the race himself. Second, climate change occupies the same position on the agenda as it has in Democratic circles for the last few years — a secondary issue behind health care and the economy. And in this cycle, it perhaps has become tertiary as Democrats make Donald Trump an issue unto himself. Inslee’s brief and fringe appearance on the primary stage had little or no impact on this.

Speaking of stages, Inslee told Maddow that the debate stage was to blame for his failure to catch fire:

Inslee told Maddow that he felt hemmed in by the design of the televised debates, in which candidates were given short amounts of time to answer on complex subjects such as climate change. He declined to make an early endorsement of any candidate but said he would support the eventual Democratic nominee.

Who’s Inslee trying to kid? The debate stage was his best opportunity to make a splash, thanks to a format that incentivized fringe candidates to take potshots at the polling leaders. Inslee’s failure to take advantage of those incentives isn’t the fault of the debate organizers. That’s not to say that Inslee is entirely wrong about the terrible format — I’ve written about that myself — but that wasn’t Inslee’s problem.

It may not be Inslee who has the problem, anyway. The bigger question Democrats have to ask is why governors like Inslee, John Hickenlooper, and Steve Bullock (so far) are getting pushed to the margins while Beltway establishment candidates have gained all the attention. That’s an odd way to greet the populist moment in American politics; that choice ended up costing them an election in 2016, and it might create more problems for Democrats in 2020. Inslee may not have been the specific answer to that issue, but none of the smallish Democratic gubernatorial class has gotten much love even with their outside-the-Beltway standing.

Anyway, Inslee’s supporters won’t be entirely left out in the cold. Inslee will shift his focus to winning a third term as governor in Washington instead:

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has ended his climate change-focused 2020 presidential bid, is set to announce Thursday that he’ll seek a third term as governor.

Two people close to Inslee told The Associated Press that Inslee planned to make the announcement in an email to supporters. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the announcement publicly. …

While the filing deadline for the state’s 2020 elections isn’t until next May, three Democrats had already signaled they would run for governor, but only if Inslee didn’t: Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine. The political dominos continued with Democratic candidates lining up to run for attorney general and lands commissioner if Ferguson and Franz end up not seeking reelection to their posts.

Inslee didn’t get noticed enough in the presidential race to do any damage to his standing in Washington, so one has to consider him a front-runner for another term. Must be a nice change for Inslee to actually be in the race he’s running.