New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is heading to Iowa in mid-December. Why go to a city where you are not the mayor? I wonder.
As reported by Politico, de Blasio will be in Des Moines to headline the holiday party of a group called Progress Iowa. Matt Sinovic, the group’s executive director, told Politico that its members are eager to hear from the mayor. “He’s definitely a well-known progressive leader, and I think people would be excited to hear from him,” he explained.
Setting aside the questionable premise that de Blasio is a well-known progressive leader and that people are excited to hear from him, the fact remains that the trip has set off a new round of speculation about his national ambitions, up to and including the presidency.
Now we have arrived at a fork in the blog road. If you are not a middling Democratic politics man, the rest of the blog is not for you. Please look away. But if you are a middling Democratic politics man, please come closer. Put your face to the screen so that you might feel the heat of the computer as I type these words: I promise you that now is not your time. Please do not run for president.
Co-occuring with the de Blasio news is the ongoing will-they-won’t-they drama of rumored presidential runs from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Vice President Joe Biden. Ha ha, okay.
Now these are different men of different circumstance, so let’s split them up.
Cuomo and de Blasio will almost certainly not win the presidency, which is perhaps the most straightforward reason they should not run for president. Most New Yorkers do not want Cuomo to run for president, and the rest of the country tends to hate high-profile New Yorkers because they are terrible and deserve it. The outlook for de Blasio is less poll-tested, but, as Politico noted in its writeup, no mayor of a major American city has ever become president without first attaining some other elected office. He is also terrible at answering questions from the press and has a tendency to say needlessly dumb things.
So these are not the men the country... wants right now. They are also not the men the country needs. There is a resurgence of energy coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party. Cuomo, whose political engine is running almost entirely on the fumes of very wealthy donors, has worked mightily to undermine progressive policies and coalition-building in his own state.
As my colleague Clio Chang reported earlier this year, while Cuomo has increased the volume on his anti-Trump rhetoric in recent months, this kneecapping of the left has been Cuomo’s real legacy in office:
What Cuomo has done in the Senate is the most prominent example of how he has undercut New York’s progressive architecture and neutered opposition from his left flank. On a legislative level, the coalition between the GOP and the renegade Democrats—known as the Independent Democratic Conference—allows Cuomo to control the pace of the reform coming out of Albany. It has hobbled the ability of the Democratic Party, which technically won a majority in the state Senate in 2012 and 2016 (Republicans won the majority in 2014), to push for progressive policies in areas like health care, voting reform, reproductive rights, and immigration. And it precludes the threat of a Democratic Senate majority leader with clout.
Which brings us somewhere closer to the problem of Joe Biden, a very likable national figure who in no way represents the politics and policies that Democrats need to be moving towards right now. He embodies everything about the Democratic Party that young reformers wish to leave behind, from the 1994 Crime Bill to his treatment of Anita Hill to his general anti-progressivism that he passes off as pragmatism.
This is a strange and dangerous moment we are living through. Republicans control all three branches of government and intend to use them to further enrich the unspeakably wealthy, empower lawless corporations, and exploit racism and all manner of bigotries to retain their grip on the levers of power.
Congressional Republicans have so far managed to fuck themselves over on their major legislative agenda items, but the Trump White House has largely succeeded in its piecemeal efforts to scale up the violent racism of its administrative functions. The announcement on Monday from the Department of Homeland Security that nearly 60,000 Haitian immigrants living in the United States had been stripped of their temporary protected status—casting these individuals and families into unnecessary chaos and precarity—was just the latest example.
As a consequence, there is a new urgency around a longstanding vacuum of progressive leadership within and adjacent to the Democratic Party. If there is a lesson to be taken away from national elections held earlier this month, it is that the cruel chaos of the Trump administration has created significant political openings that can and should be seized by progressives.
In Virginia, one of those openings was filled by a former Republican turned Democrat who, while running against a cartoon version of Confederate racism, chose to move his position on immigration and sanctuary cities to the right rather than reject the bigoted and thoroughly debunked premise that using local resources to target immigrants somehow makes communities safer.
Also in Virginia, one of those openings was filled by a true progressive who ran on bread and butter local issues and is also the first trans woman to win office in that state. Similarly, a candidate with the Democratic Socialists of America unseated a Republican whip.
As terrifying as our politics have become right now, there are certain political winds that may make it easier for Democrats to best Republicans in certain races. By no means does this make a 2020 challenge a sure bet for Democrats, but it does mean that they need to think long and hard about the person and the policies they want to try to build around. The stakes are too high to get it wrong, and none of these men are the answer.