What the Future Looks Like for Cuomo, Short-Term and Long-Term
Yesterday, we laid out the political fix Andrew Cuomo has suddenly found himself in: facing a spirited primary challenge where his opponent keeps narrowing the gap, an electorate that can’t easily be moved to change their underlying views of the incumbent, and a lot of risk in either path forward: going negative in the era of #metoo and turning lots of voters off or staying positive and seeing his lead shrink and shrink. Both are bad options. But at the end of the day, Cuomo likely survives the primary. And here’s what the next ten years probably look like for our Governor.
- Endures a miserable primary against Nixon because the press is actively rooting for her and because his supporters are there for solely pragmatic reasons and hers are there for ideological and personal reasons, giving her virtually all of the race’s energy and momentum. The press and the political class loves watching him suffer and do everything they can to make the primary seem as close as possible. But at the end of the day, Cuomo prevails.
- But as that’s happening, the second major corruption trial (Kaloyeros) confronting the Cuomo administration takes place. If the Percoco trial is a harbinger, this one will reflect pretty badly on the Governor too. It’s not bad enough to prevent a third term but adds an even starker, gloomier overhang to an already tense and difficult internal environment.
- Does better in the general election than in the primary. There’s no statewide GOP turnout mechanism whatsoever and every Democrat knows that they’d better produce for Cuomo or they’ll be frozen out in the next term, so it’s a lot easier than the primary. But despite all of that, he doesn’t win by as much as he’d like (although he and his team do successfully resist the temptation to fall into another Bridgegate).
Cuomo’s swearing in for term three is overshadowed by the Senate Democrats re-taking power, significantly eroding the leverage Cuomo once held over the legislature. The chastening from the primary and the desire to at least look like a viable presidential candidate means Cuomo signs every bill the Democrats send his way and produces the most left-leaning session in years.
- Tries to stoke speculation that he’s running for President while acting coy and disinterested. Problem is there’s no bloc of voters, no grassroots movement, no one clamoring for him to run, so the source of the speculation is obvious and falls flat.
- As Democrat after Democrat (including possibly multiple Democrats from his own region – Gillibrand, Booker, even Murphy) all announce their campaigns for the presidency, it becomes clear that Cuomo isn’t going to run after all (it carries a lot of political risk and when it comes to his own politics, Cuomo is pretty risk averse).
- Cuomo has to shift his narrative and agenda back to relevance as Governor now that he’s not running for President. Doing this in an all-Democratic legislature that now feels empowered and no longer afraid of him is not easy.
- Watching Albany defy him up close and watching Democrats and voters ignore him nationally drives Cuomo to distraction. Lots of new feuds and fighting in 2020.
Things go really badly because it’s a third term, the staff is exhausted and threadbare, the press is bored, the legislature is rebellious, the special interests are no longer afraid and that’s how third terms tend to work.
- Despite that, Cuomo realizes he has to run for a fourth term. What else is he going to do? He loves being Governor. He doesn’t really have any other interests, hobbies (other than muscle cars), passions, beliefs or even monetary goals. This is what he does.
- The field against him for 2022 emerges quickly. Ideologues like Nixon or Teachout from the left and established, career politicians like Schneiderman or de Blasio all prepare for the primary. Cuomo wars with each and every one of them.
Cuomo either realizes he can’t win a fourth term and reluctantly decides not to run or loses in the Democratic primary. Echoes his father’s career (three terms as Governor, no run for President, falls short in election four) at every step.
Short-term political history judges Cuomo harshly. The first term of the new Governor will be almost completely a reaction against Cuomo, and for a while at least, the press and Albany will all merrily go along with it.
- As personal vendettas start to fade and as politicians, reporters, union leaders and party leaders either retire or die off, Cuomo’s legacy as Governor revises upwards. He’s ultimately seen as a guy who was extremely effective at maneuvering the Albany chessboard, passed some major social legislation, built out a lot of the state’s infrastructure (even if he failed at the MTA), and generally got things done. He’s also remembered as not a particularly nice guy but the specific grievances retreat into history.
- Unless one of his children try to create Cuomo Act III, the saga comes to an end with the final verdict being somewhere around not exactly how they wanted things to turn out but not bad either.