Can Patrick Gaspard Revive the Center for American Progress?

After Trump won, Gaspard became president of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Atop one of the most well-funded liberal donor groups, Gaspard first pushed for greater investment in voting rights. Then, in July 2020, OSF announced a plan to contribute $220 million to racial justice groups. “The demands being made now will not be met overnight, and we know the gaze of media and elected officials will turn in other directions,” he told The New York Times. “But we need these moments to be sustained. If we’re going to say ‘Black lives matter,’ we need to say ‘Black organizations and structures matter.’”

At no point did Gaspard opt for a lucrative job in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street as did many of his fellow Obama alums. It’s just not his style. “He viewed politics as a means of promoting social and economic justice,” said David Axelrod. “He is a hard-bitten idealist.” But when Biden was named president-elect, Gaspard resigned from OSF, and reportedly tried calling in some chits from union friends to become labor secretary. He didn’t get the job, and instead found himself back as the outside organizer.

Multiple Democrats who know Gaspard suggested to me that he’s assessing the landscape at CAP before implementing any major changes. Still, Gaspard’s hiring suggests the new direction is to avoid being tied to just one of the core standard-bearers of the Democratic Party, as it once was so thoroughly with the Clintons. CAP is still finding its place amid an increasingly fractured Democratic coalition. During an October MSNBC appearance, Gaspard spent his airtime awkwardly trying to convince Andrea Mitchell that Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin agree more than they disagree. But at times, CAP has publicly rebuked Biden. “All Americans should be appalled by the conditions facing migrants at the U.S. southern border,” Gaspard said in a September statement.

With Republicans expected to pick up congressional seats in the midterms, a postelection circular firing squad within the Democratic Party is a near certainty. CAP could end up having to represent just one side, contra Gaspard’s apparent goal of creating an all-inclusive Democratic think tank.

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