Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee. Yet many Democrats have ‘buyers’ remorse’ as the COVID virus has driven Biden off centerstage and into a hastily-built basement studio in his Delaware home.
Biden has tried to remain relevant to the public through TV broadcasts, but those appearances have been gaffe-prone and interspersed with lapses in lucidity. Last Friday, he announced on CNN that ‘I speak to all five of my grandkids,’ which must make his very much alive sixth grandchild feel a little neglected. Dave Catanese of McClatchy found his interview last Monday painful to watch: ‘Joe Biden struggled mightily at the top of his MSNBC interview where he looked to be reading from notes to answer a question.’
Democrats openly worry about the lack of enthusiasm for Biden. A new Washington Post/ABC poll found 86 percent of Trump supporters enthusiastic about their choice. Only 74 percent of Biden backers said the same thing. Most ominously, the poll found that 15 percent of Democrats who still back Bernie Sanders say they’d vote for Trump, not Biden, in November. That’s more than the 12 percent of Sanders voters who plumped for Trump in 2016.
The fear that Biden could buckle before a relentless GOP negative campaign or Trump’s bullying in debates is palpable among many Democrats. Lloyd Constantine, a former senior policy adviser to New York governor Eliot Spitzer from 2007 to 2008, is unsparing: ‘Biden is a melting ice cube. Those of us who have closely watched as time ravaged the once sharp or even brilliant minds of loved ones and colleagues, recognize what is happening to the good soldier Joe.’
Constantine and others have found a new Great Left Hope. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo has caused many pundits to swoon with his blunt no-nonsense daily briefings on the virus. Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post concluded ‘The governor’s in-charge demeanor and straight talk remind us of what a leader looks like and acts like.’ Last week, cable news networks even skipped covering a speech by Biden to cover a Cuomo news conference.
Cuomo has harbored presidential ambitions for decades, and has admitted he would have run in 2020 if Biden hadn’t. But he also knows he dare not show a hint of those ambitions in the midst of a public health crisis. David Drucker, a reporter for the Washington Examiner, doesn’t envision a Cuomo ‘draft’ but notes his much praised crisis management has greatly enhanced his stature. ‘Voters always love you when you’re not being political,’ he says. ‘Cuomo has the chance to appear as a man in control and with a plan. But he can’t be seen as wanting higher office.’
To that end, Cuomo took time last Monday to appear on the CNN show his younger brother Chris (who just tested positive for COVID-19) hosts. The first softball began this way: ‘With all of this adulation that you’re getting for doing your job, are you thinking about running for president?’ The governor’s one-word answer was ‘No.’ Chris Cuomo then began a faux bickering session in which he asked a form of the question another 10 times. The governor said a form of ‘no’ the same number of times, before mock-congratulating his brother on being a great interviewer. Chris ended the session by saying ‘Appreciate it. Learned from the best.’ Few political observers thought the exchange would end the Cuomo speculation.
Cuomo’s supporters claim that, if he ran for president, he would be able to satisfy both the party’s pragmatists and its left-wingers. On the one hand, Cuomo has signed into law the ultimate liberal wish-list — tough gun-control measures, a $15-an-hour minimum wage for New York City, abolishing bail, gay rights laws, sweeping climate change goals, and even a ban on declawing pet cats. But Cuomo also routinely ridicules ‘the professional left’ as not representative of his party. In an interview with the Atlantic he dismissed it as ‘a sham set of groups that are fronts for labor unions’.
While Cuomo could possibly unite Democrats, parts of his record would give pause to anti-Trump Republicans and independents. During a decade as governor, many of his close aides and associates have gone to prison — they could form their own football team — and he’s presided over epic rapes of the public purse. His views on abortion and sanctuary cities that shield undocumented aliens are extreme even for many Democrats. Not to mention his cringeworthy riposte to Trump’s MAGA slogan in 2018: ‘America was never that great’. That’s a line tailor-made for a Trump ad.
Should Biden continue to flail and increase doubts about his electability, it would be a Herculean task to deny him the nomination. But the Democratic party, with an assist from its media allies, has demonstrated its ruthlessness when it wants to dispose of someone.
In October 2015, Joe Biden had rented office space and hired consultants for a run against Hillary Clinton. Then after a stern appeal from President Obama, Biden suddenly appeared next to his boss in the Rose Garden and aborted his run. Could Obama be called upon by party elders to have another heart-to-heart with his old vice president?
Even were Biden to be nominated, a switcheroo between the convention in July and the November election would be possible. In 1972, the Democratic National Committee quickly replaced George McGovern’s running-mate after he was pressured to drop out. In 2002, scandal-tarred New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Torricelli was sinking in the polls a month before the election. The deadline for withdrawing had passed and some absentee ballots had been printed. But Democratic leaders ‘persuaded’ Torricelli to drop out and a supine New Jersey Supreme Court allowed them to replace him with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg — who went on to win.
Shenanigans aside, Cuomo likely realizes such lightning is unlikely to strike this year. But at age 62, he can afford to bide his time. After all, in 2024 two possible scenarios may face him: Donald Trump will be finishing his last term, or Joe Biden will be 81 years old and may be viewed as a prime candidate for retirement. Just like his late father, Mario Cuomo, Andrew will be the object of appeals by many to run. But unlike his Hamlet-like father who never ran for president, the son will have no hesitation in lurching for the brass ring.