Conventional political wisdom has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo winning the Democratic Primary and the November General Election handily. The same wisdom has him badly damaged in New York and nationally. What gives?
The objective measures of political success show Cuomo on a roll. He’s raised over $35 million. His opponents are starving. His poll numbers are good. Most voters don’t know the opposition. He’s dominated the political news as a candidate in the same manner that he dominated the government.
That may be the rub. His political operation was never satisfied with winning. Opposition was to be crushed and the methodologies were simple and punishing. It worked. Republicans voted for gay marriage and gun control. Democrats folded to an austerity economic agenda that cut taxes for the rich, cut spending, and gave billions to corporations as “economic development.”
He earned public approval as an effective executive. But when the inevitable mistakes came, there was no cushion of goodwill anywhere, no chorus of rebuttals by friends and allies. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Cuomo’s mistakes were doozies. He championed ethics reform, then publicly took apart his own investigative commission when it started to look at his $35 million in fundraising. He coached a response from commission members that moved the US Attorney to publicly denounce it as witness tampering. He picked an intelligent and likable upstater as his Lieutenant Governor candidate who turned out to have a very conservative record on immigration, abortion, guns, etc.
But the heart of the growing disaffection was probably a political and governing strategy that looked smart for the first two years of his term. He won in 2010 in the midst of a Tea Party sweep. He’s nothing if not decisive and he decided to embrace a Tea Party-ish economic agenda. He cut the estate tax for a few thousand super-rich families. He repealed the bank tax. He cut state income taxes for those making over $300,000. He imposed tax caps on schools and local governments, cut school aid and bashed public sector unions. At the same time he was a big liberal on identity and social issues.
He became the main, if not the only, “progr-actionary” Democratic governor, marrying hard right economics with a hard left social agenda.
It’s become fashionable to blame Cuomo’s dilemma on personal style defects. The New York Times recently portrayed him as aloof and unfriendly, and his take-no-prisoners style has left him with a political class more than willing to stick a knife in when it can. There’s truth to all that. But the larger truth is that Democrats have moved away from tax-cutting austerity to concerns about income inequality and social investments. He’s out of step with his base on a lot of big issues.
It’s the combination of ideological and personal misjudgments that are causing him agita on an unprecedented level.
So what do voters do? Very hard to tell, but they don’t pay us the zero bucks to duck the hard predictions. He wins the Democratic Primary with about 60 percent of the vote and is declared damaged. He wins the general election with about 60 percent of the vote and is declared damaged.
Who ever said politics was fair?
First published September 3, 2014 by The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-brodsky/cuomo-winsloses_b_5756186.html
Richard Brodsky is a fellow at the Demos think tank in New York City and at the Wagner School at New York University.