Rep. Seth Moulton insists that he’s not running for president—but the Massachusetts Democrat, a critic of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who has spent the past two years building out a network of veteran congressional candidates, has a lot of thoughts about the future of his party.
I caught up with him on a recent September day to hear about his next steps, his view on how to take on Donald Trump and his passion for cooking.
Here are excerpts of the conversation, which took place as we drove from a Richmond campaign event for one of his endorsed candidates back to D.C. The remarks have been edited for clarity and length (read the full story on what Moulton’s up to):
On running for president:
Katie Glueck: Are you considering a presidential run?
Seth Moulton: I’m not running for president.
KG: Not right at this moment?
SM: I’m not running for president, period.
KG: How Shermanesque do you want to be here?
SM: What does Shermanesque mean?
KG: ‘If nominated, I won’t do it,’ essentially [read more on this phrase here]. Are you ruling out running for president in 2020?
SM: I just want to serve the country the best way I can. Right now, that’s as the representative of the Sixth District of Massachusetts, and that’s by helping amazing candidates like Abby [Spanberger, running in Virginia] win important congressional races across the country.
KG: I have to write down that’s not a no.
SM: You guys can write down whatever you want. I think I’ve been pretty clear about running for president.
KG: Well, why not?
SM: I don’t think it’s the best way I can serve the country right now. [He coughs.] If that were to change, I would consider it, but I don’t think that’s the best way I can serve the country.
KG: In the next presidential election, not talking about you specifically, but is there room for someone who does talk about reaching across the aisle, moving away from partisanship, or are folks too angry right now?
SM: ...Folks might be too angry right now, but that doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll feel a year from now, and I believe it’s incumbent on whoever follows Trump to work to bring the country back together. I don’t think that the divisions Trump and his cronyism have created are going to evaporate overnight just because we get someone new. I think we need a true unifying leader.
He and his spokesman, Matt Corridoni, bring up a sermon he delivered at Harvard last fall.
SM: I decided to talk about what happens after Trump. At some point, Trump will be beaten. What does that mean for the rest of us? And there will definitely be people who try to lord it over, saying, ‘See, we were right all along.’ ...Then there will be some especial leaders who work to try to bring us together, to say, ‘I understand why you supported him, but this is the better path, this is the higher calling.’
KG: Do you think that needs to happen in order for him to be defeated?
SM: That’s an interesting question. I think ultimately that kind of candidate will be more successful. I think ultimately the American people want leaders with honesty, integrity and a unifying vision of this country. But that may not be what primary voters want at this moment.
KG: Does that worry you, that it’s possible that’s not where the Democratic primary base is?
SM: Not too much, because I think the energy and excitement is good. The party has a history of getting more grounded as time goes on.
On running for Speaker of the House
KG: Speaker [of the House] you’ve very firmly ruled out, it sounds like, that’s like the most firm it could be, is that fair?
SM: I think they’re both [ruling out running for Speaker and for president] pretty firm.
KG: Really, it’s the same vehemence?
SM: I don’t know. You can—you’re the one with your fingers on the meat.
KG: Fingers on the what, I’m sorry?
SM: ...testing it for firmness. How done is the meat, I guess.
KG: Wow, interesting, I had not thought about it that way.
SM: I like to cook, it’s a cooking analogy. You can tell a steak by its doneness, by pushing on it.
On a possible 2020 Senate bid
KG: You’ve also been talked about maybe looking at a Senate bid?
SM: Yeah, I don’t know where that’s coming from, but—Massachusetts is a politically active state. And a lot of people have opinions about what different political leaders should do. That’s not coming from me.
KG: And it’s not something you’re interested in?
SM: It’s not something I’m interested in, I’m planning on. And I can just tell you that the idea [of taking on Sen. Ed Markey] is obviously coming from someone, it’s not coming from me.
KG: ...And it’s something you’re not interested in?
SM: I have no plans to challenge Markey.
KG: Do you like him?
SM: I do! We have a good relationship, and I particularly like his wife.
On how to beat Trump
KG: I’d be interested in who you think could beat Trump in a presidential.
SM: I think Trump is going to be harder to beat than people think.
KG: Why is that?
SM: Because he has an extremely energized base. Because every decision he makes is politically calculated to ensure his own survival and success...Republicans [are] by and large complicit. You have a guy who never does the right thing for the country, only does the right thing for his own political success. You have a Republican Party that’s unbelievably complicit. You have a really energized base. Those things are good ingredients for him to get reelected.
…Are there Democrats who could beat him? Absolutely. Sure there are. We need to make sure that that’s the person we nominate.
KG: Do you have a theory of the case?
SM: Yes. That the person needs to be a repudiation of Trump, needs to be kind of the opposite of Trump. So the people who say, oh, we need another Trump-like figure on the left, I think are wrong. I think people are going to want to get away from that. So don’t think that we need another reality TV star who happens to be a Democrat, no. We want someone who, you know, has some political experience, etc. etc. You look at Trump’s characteristics. Someone who counters those.
KG: What do you think of all the senators jockeying to take on that mantle?
SM: I mean, sometimes it feels like there’s going to be nobody left in the Senate.
KG: So you’re thinking a statesman.
SM: Yes. I think we need a statesman. I think the party needs a statesman, I think the country needs a statesman.
KG: Like a Biden statesman?
SM: I have tremendous respect for the vice president, but I think it’s time for a new generation of leadership.
KG: So no.
SM: Well, I mean, he might be our best option.
KG: You’re close with Tim Ryan, I think?
KG: He’s making moves, does he count as a statesman?
SM: I think Tim Ryan’s great.
KG: Interesting. What else do you want to say about the direction that you would hope to help move the Democratic Party in?
SM: ...I think we need a more inclusive, diverse, grassroots party, rather than a party defined by top-down establishment leadership from Washington.
KG: What do you mean by inclusive? Generationally inclusive, or…?
SM: That’s one way. Generationally, racially. All of these are measures of inclusivity, they make us stronger.