Andrew Cuomo is no longer just New York’s governor — he is now America’s governor. Thanks to his excellent leadership during the overwhelming health crisis caused by the coronavirus, Cuomo has provided much-needed comfort and information to the entire country. He has been so effective and has presented such a stark contrast with the vacuum of leadership in the White House that now some people are saying he should be America’s president.
I get what people are drawn to, as it’s the same thing that can make his staff nuts — a complete dedication to the facts and a depth of knowledge of how government works.
As a New Yorker, I understand where they’re coming from, but I wish they would stop. First, New York needs Cuomo’s leadership now and in the months to come. Second, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont would fight any late entry he would make into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, which could lead to President Donald Trump’s re-election. Third, there is no need for a third reason; the first two should be enough.
As someone who served as special adviser to Cuomo, I’ve seen him handle a looming transit strike, the Ebola crisis and natural disasters. I get what people are drawn to, as it’s the same thing that can drive his staff nuts — a complete dedication to the facts and a depth of knowledge of how government works at the federal, state and municipal levels. And he is clearly communicating that now to an audience desperate for reliable data and guidance.
Whether it’s creating a command post, converting the Javits convention center into a hospital or getting updates on the number of ventilators in the state, Cuomo’s next question to staff will surely be “And what else?” No matter how well-conceived the plan, there’s almost always a scenario you haven’t thought of that he’ll ask you about. This is not to torment us staffers (although some days it feels like it is) but to make us better than we ever thought we could be at our jobs. That key trait is allowing him to step up and deliver in this crisis.
At the same time that Cuomo is hands on, obsessive and controlling — in other words, ruthlessly effective — he’s also offering a level of inspiration and compassion that’s providing a morale boost across the nation. Last week, more than 16,000 people retweeted a clip of his declaration that “we are going to fight every way we can to save every life that we can. That’s what it means to be an American, and that’s what it means to be a New Yorker.”
Perhaps most importantly, he takes responsibility for his actions. After closing schools, restaurants and other nonessential businesses, he received blowback from local officials, business owners and workers suffering from the economic standstill. He responded at a news conference by saying: “If someone wants to blame someone, blame me. There is no one else responsible for this decision.” He owned it.
That stands in stark contrast to what Trump has done, making it easy to see why Cuomo could be a strong candidate against him. Trump has completely mishandled this crisis, from blaming governors like Cuomo for not doing enough to praising the actions he himself has taken to frequently giving contradictory and at times false information.
Even some of Trump’s own people are praising Cuomo. “We’re asking every single governor and every single mayor to prepare like New York is preparing now,” the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, recently said on “Meet the Press.”
So it should come as no surprise that there has been a lot of chatter in the political class about Cuomo as a potential replacement for Biden as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. Though Biden leads Sanders by a considerable number in the delegate count for the nomination, there are concerns about how the 77-year-old candidate has all but vanished from the national stage during the crisis and given lackluster performances in his remote interviews.
For sure, Cuomo’s briefing and media attention have made him very popular, with #PresidentCuomo trending on Twitter for days. Even Trump is pondering a Cuomo run, telling Fox News that “I think he’d be a better candidate than Sleepy Joe.” However, no matter how appealing the idea may be to some, this switcheroo will not happen. To put it in New Yorkese — fuhgeddaboudit.
To begin with, there are major practical impediments, first and foremost the issue of delegates — those Democratic Party representatives who actually choose the nominee. With a large part of the primary process already over, Biden has more than 1,000 and Sanders more than 800 of the 1,991 needed; Cuomo has none.
Make no mistake about it: Should the talk of replacing Biden for Cuomo pick up steam, Sanders and his followers would take it all the way to the convention and make the legitimate argument that not a single primary voter cast a ballot for Cuomo. Should no candidate get 1,991 delegates, that would lead to a brokered convention, which would mean all bets are off after the first vote.
The current candidates aren’t going away. Biden won’t step aside now no matter how many gaffes he makes. After he was written off and left on the curb like yesterday’s trash, he’s enjoying his legendary comeback and even discussing possible vice presidential candidates with his former boss, just one of his many deep connections to the party apparatus.
Sanders, for his part, would fight tooth and nail against Cuomo — he’s already threatened to do as much against Biden, and Cuomo is the same type of moderate whom the socialist independent opposes, with the additional baggage of lacking any electoral legitimacy in the 2020 race.
Moreover, for a Democrat to beat Trump, that candidate must have the full backing of the party. A backroom deal that would allow Cuomo to be the nominee would destroy the morale of many supporters of the two other candidates and their willingness to vote in November. And no one would enjoy the chaos more than Trump, for whom even a small decrease in turnout could hand him victory.
For a Democrat to beat Trump, that candidate must have the full backing of the party. A backroom deal that would allow Cuomo to be the nominee would destroy the morale of many supporters.
Cuomo himself has dumped cold water on the idea that he’s considering a late entry into the race. “I said from Day One I wasn’t running for president. I’m not running for president now,” he said when asked about the possibility at his news briefing Monday.
Those who are asking why didn’t Cuomo run for president should understand that it was never in the cards for the governor, whose poll numbers were at an unimpressive 43 percent just seven months ago before skyrocketing to 71 percent now. Being a moderate who tried to turn left to appease powerful New York progressives left him with few friends, so he instead governed with an iron fist. Which is great in a crisis, but not so good when running for president.
New Yorkers love to hate our sports teams and elected officials. But while a lot of people have had issues with Cuomo, we are not willing to trade him. He belongs to New York, and we need him to stay here.