David Freedlander didn’t get New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to cooperate with him while he was writing his profile of him for Politico, and that is apparently the norm. Cuomo doesn’t want people discussing his presidential ambitions. Nonetheless, I imagine that Cuomo isn’t displeased with the piece since it paints him as a ruthlessly effective politician who gets shit done and takes no prisoners.
Overall, it’s a good piece because it provides a comprehensive history of Cuomo and his time in Albany, and it takes in commentary from a wide spectrum of views including admirers, progressive opponents, and even fearful members of Trump’s team. But there is one rather significant problem.
It begins by asking if Cuomo can win over liberals if he runs for president. It correctly sees this as his largest obstacle. It then goes into admirable detail about why this won’t be easy considering his record of vindictively antagonizing progressives and welshing on his promises. This is followed by a long and somewhat convincing argument that he’s checked off a whole lot of boxes on the progressive wishlist: free college, gay marriage, stricter gun control, a relaxation of Rockefeller-era drug laws, and a ban on fracking. In other words, he’s fought with liberals but he’s also delivered for them. Liberals should recognize his effectiveness.
And that’s all fair. But then the piece concludes with stuff like this:
It would be impossible to mount a presidential campaign in this day and age without a groundswell of support from the party’s liberal edge. People close to Cuomo know he needs to do some repair work in New York, end his bitter feud with [NYC Mayor Bill] de Blasio, push for a Democratic legislature.
He knows they will never love him. Cuomo still sees himself as an outer-borough guy, his advisers say, as the kind of person whose favorite weekend hobby is working on old cars. Those mandarins at the Times editorial board or perusing Mother Jones in the checkout line of the Park Slope Food Co-Op who think politics is about pretty words and debating ideas will never get it. “He thinks the far left think they are so much smarter and more righteous than everyone else, and that if you don’t constantly kiss their ass that there is something repugnant about you,” said one adviser. “He really doesn’t care. He’s got the unions on his side, and he knows that’s worth more than whatever the 800 ivory tower liberals in New York think about him.”
It’s hard to see how Cuomo’s “advisors” think these kinds of comments will fix the rift that has developed between their champion and the progressive left. It’s really this kind of disrespect that has prevented Cuomo from getting the credit he actually does deserve. He and his minions have punched down so hard on his critics that he’s created an army of folks for whom he’s not just an enemy. His very name is now an epithet. Here’s an example from the piece:
“The worst of the worst,” said Nomiki Konst, a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention and frequent cable TV defender of the candidate who now serves on the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Commission. “Andrew Cuomo is somehow the only politician in America who still thinks neoliberalism and triangulation work, who opens up the Blue Dog playbook and says, ‘How can I use this to run for president?’”
Cuomo’s approach has worked on a lot of levels and he’s got good enough poll ratings that he could probably be reelected to another term as governor without much difficulty. But the perception that he’s from the wrong wing of the Democratic Party is widespread and is going to be tough to overcome in any effort to win the nomination for the presidency.
He’ll be able to go down the list of things he’s accomplished and make the case that he’s a solid progressive, but his hardened enemies will make things tough for him. If he really has the ambition to be president, and I do not doubt that he does, then he needs his supporters to stop trashing the progressive left.
As things stand now, he’s become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party. He’ll need to change that perception substantially, and I honestly don’t think he can accomplish it just by banning fracking and providing a free college program. He has to learn to turn the other cheek and make some amends. And I think those are two things that he’ll never learn to do.
He’ll make some halfhearted efforts, but he’s going to argue what this profile argues, which is that he’s an asskicker who can take on any opponent and vanquish them. He’s a winner who will get results.
That could be enough in a world where he wasn’t perceived as a kind of anti-Sanders persona. In the real world, though, progressives will go to the wall to deny him the nomination.