Opening Shot of the 2016 Democratic Nomination Campaign?

Last week I suggested there were some suppressed divisions in the Democratic Party which will eventually emerge, if not sooner then later, and that the shape of the 2016 presidential nominating contest might influence (and be influenced by) these divisions.

Today we saw one early example of an unfriendly ideological take on a potential ’16er, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, from Salon‘s Alex Pareene. Alex played off Cuomo’s less-than-aggressive role in the Democratic battle to get control of the New York Senate to open up a more general complaint about Mario Cuomo’s son, under the provocative headline, “Andrew Cuomo: Fake Democrat”:

[I]f Republicans get their [State Senate] majority, with the tacit support of Cuomo, the governor will have once again shown that he is not the progressive figure he will likely try to sell himself as if he runs for president. His tenure so far has been marked by flashy liberal victories on issues like gay marriage, along with a quietly conservative economic agenda: A property tax cap, total neglect of mass transit, and (partial) support for fracking. Even on economic issues where Cuomo has more liberal priorities, he rarely pushes his Republican friends particularly hard. (A Republican-controlled state Senate will almost certainly block a minimum wage increase Cuomo ostensibly supports.) There’s a reason, in other words, that the National Review loves him.

Cuomo doesn’t hide his conservative tendencies — they’re part of his sales pitch, especially upstate and outside New York City — but he’s in an enviable position of being able to run and govern as a conservative while retaining a progressive reputation, because he’s, you know, a Cuomo and a big-city blue state liberal governor who got gay marriage passed. His response to Sandy has raised his national profile even more, and barring the sort of disastrous scandals that have sunk the last couple of New York governors, he’ll keep being mentioned whenever people bring up 2016 candidates until the day he announces his intentions. But Democrats ought to know what sort of Democrat he is. If Cuomo allows Republicans to subvert the will of the voters of New York, so that he has an easier time cutting taxes and rolling back regulations, he shouldn’t be allowed to sell himself to future primary voters as a progressive.

There are other issues with Cuomo that ideological concerns may mask but quietly reflect, notably his insider rep as a pol who has managed to earn a reputation for unusual levels of egomania in a profession where that malady is legion (haven’t heard any fresh examples for a while; maybe his girlfriend Sandra Lee has calmed him down). But like it or not, presidential considerations are going to begin affecting how Democrats react to possible candidates, and if the son of a famous liberal is regularly accused of “triangulating,” we’re going to hear about it a lot.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.