According to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a Donald Trump presidency could bode poorly for the Empire State. “Normally an election is about who we elect,” Cuomo said Sunday in Buffalo. “This election is about who we are. In truth Trump is un-New York. Everything the man stands for is the exact opposite that this state stands for.” If that is true, Donald Trump left New York standing on its head Tuesday.
Trump will take office in January leading a unified Republican government with a base in that vast swath of flyover America that love-hates New York for the sheer bloody sport of it. So where does that leave New York? Where does it leave Cuomo?
To begin with, Cuomo was simply being his usual rhetorically preposterous self on Sunday; he does this often and with great enthusiasm. Trump is actually an authentic New Yorker—a brash, overreaching son of Queens County who placed a big bet on himself and came up winners. What could be more New York than that? Plus, in so doing he cleared a plausible path for Cuomo to place his own big bet in 2020; it’s a temptation the governor will have a hard time passing up.
While four years seems a long time off, the effects on New York politics and policy of a Cuomo presidential bid would be both immediate and substantial. Immediate, because a new session of the Albany legislature is only a few months away—not much time to shape the policies that would define a potential candidacy. Substantial, because the governor must quickly decide which Andrew Cuomo he would present to America: the fiscally moderate conventional liberal who resoundingly won office in 2010, or the gun-grabbing, minimum-wage-raising, hurler of progressive bombast who began to emerge soon thereafter.
Experience suggests that Cuomo’s worse angels will tug him further left as the Trump administration takes shape. A governor who sees no place in his state for “extremists”—meaning those who are pro-life, pro-gun, and support traditional defense of marriage—likely feels the same way about America generally. Moreover, it’s already pretty crowded on the far left of New York politics. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor who gave Cuomo a surprisingly brisk primary in 2014, lost a Hudson Valley congressional bid Tuesday, but her wing of the Democratic Party remains formidable. So does Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose gubernatorial ambitions are transparent. Even New York City mayor Bill de Blasio—unfocused, inept, and Cuomo’s favorite punching bag—can’t be ignored.
Together, these New York Democrats should be able to force Cuomo to play their game over the next two years, lest he risk losing the launching-pad reelection he’d need to become a true national player in 2018. So look for substantial Cuomo concessions to the unions, especially health-care workers Local 1199; further moves to expel nuclear power from New York; an abandonment of both school-choice initiatives and educator-accountability programs; and maybe—just to mellow the policy harsh a little—a pot-legalization bill.
Cuomo could, of course, simply leave office in 2018. He could declare his governorship a smashing success while counting on inertia to carry him onto the national stage. But even that would require a lot of progressive activism over the next two years, likely to be followed by the election of Schneiderman as governor. New York’s sorely vulnerable economy would suffer accordingly.
Presidential prospects aside, Cuomo’s short-term future seems mixed. Corruption trials, or maybe plea bargains, are in the works for former top aides; his signature economic-development schemes, including the star-crossed Buffalo Billion program, seem slowly to be unraveling; and he’s increasingly cloistered in Albany, having lost key associates to indictment and resignation. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s dramatic national repudiation of progressivism is likely to have repercussions in New York. It’s too soon for specifics, but it’s safe to assume that a radical scaling back of, say, Obamacare will cause major disruptions in a state burdened by some of the highest per-capita health-care costs on the planet.
Someday soon, Andrew Cuomo may be grateful to have a New Yorker in the White House—as “un-New York” as Donald Trump may be. It never hurts to have friends in high places.
Photo by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Flickr