Cuomo’s been good, but he’s not going to be the Democratic nominee
Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. With the pandemic crisis, there’s a vacuum — short term — in presidential politics.
Republicans say President Trump, with the 5 o’clock follies, or daily coronavirus briefings, is “controlling” the political agenda; Democrats fear Joe Biden is stuck in his basement, figuratively as well as literally — and right wingers and political pundits alike speculate that Democrats may have to turn to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose coronavirus briefings have been a captivating contrast to Trump.
Hey, folks, it’s April.
That’s not when presidential elections are settled.
There has been a seismic change in American politics in the past two months; remember — two months ago Trump had beaten back his greatest crisis, impeachment, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was dominating the Democratic contest.
So much for static analysis; the next seven months will produce more shocks.
Any renewed Republican optimism about Trump’s re-election is misplaced. He has gotten a small bump from COVID-19; Americans usually do rally behind leaders in a crisis. But this has been more of blip than a bump for Trump, compared to the immediate gains for Jimmy Carter at the start of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis or for George H.W. Bush after the first Gulf War or for his son after 9/11. Foreign leaders have gotten bigger gains.
It’s more than just history that suggests the president’s bump will be ephemeral.
Americans expect a self-styled “wartime president” to act like a wartime president.
Trump, however, can’t change.
During briefings meant to inform a concerned citizenry, he viciously attacks reporters asking legitimate questions, boasts of his exceptional leadership and demands incessant praise from sycophantic lieutenants, including Vice President Pence, who directs the coronavirus task force. This is not comforting as the danger deepens.
Worse for the president has been his denial and duplicity, from late January — when the virus, which started in China, spread to Korea — to mid-March, when he was still downplaying the threat with thousands of Americans already afflicted.
If the Commander-in-Chief had treated this as “wartime” earlier, American lives would have been saved.
When Trump trots out his false narrative, claiming he knew there was a pandemic threat all along, look at the tape — there are plenty of them out there: Trump is rarely shy in front of a camera.
Then there’s the stark contrast with Gov. Cuomo, whose state is the epicenter of the pandemic. Cuomo’s briefings have been dazzling: He has been articulate and informed; he’s taken responsibility and been forceful but empathetic. The usually combative Cuomo generally has not lowered himself to return Trump’s cheap shots. He’s been the epitome of a leader, exuding competence and control.
Not surprisingly, there’s press speculation the Democrats may consider turning to Cuomo — at least it’s a new story for a political press whose shining moment has been sidelined.
And the political right, including Trump, raise the specter to create mischief.
Andrew Cuomo isn’t going to be a contender.
An impressive leader the past month, Cuomo has baggage: a history of behaving like a bully and too many ethical shortcomings and scandals in his administration.
In an ideal situation, the 77-year-old Biden might not be the choice either, but he will be — courtesy of the voters.
A relatively brief down time affords opportunities: to persuade Bernie Sanders to abandon his now futile quest for the nomination, to focus on a running mate and to work on building fund-raising and a digital presence not swamped by Trump.
Rather than strain on multiple cable television appearances — from a studio in his Delaware basement — the Vice President’s campaign should consider a few qualitative events in ensuing weeks: maybe a virtual town hall with his pandemic experts, certainly something with Barack Obama when possible.
Yes, Biden faces daunting challenges and more than 200 unpredictable days. Still, today many would rather have Biden’s hand on the rudder than Trump’s.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.