Joe Biden still has time to do the smart thing and name New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo his running mate.
The top two reasons would be Cuomo’s proven competence managing his state’s coronavirus crisis and a strong personality unafraid of that other son of Queens, President Donald Trump.
We know. Biden pledged to name a woman as his vice president. That was an unfortunate wade into the politically treacherous waters of identity politics. Biden said it was “important” that a woman be his running mate. (I’m a woman, and it’s not important to me.) Gender was not the overriding factor for female Democrats who preferred Biden or Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg over Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren — though all are highly qualified women.
In 2008, John McCain made the grave error of naming the grossly inadequate Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain was then 71, with a history of cancer. The decision to choose the clearly unvetted Palin — reportedly to balance Hillary Clinton’s alleged popularity among women — put many voters otherwise disposed to him close to panic. He ended up running against Barack Obama.
McCain might have beaten Obama had Palin’s rank ignorance and obnoxious personality not shocked so many. She launched a kind of proudly nasty brand of politics that has haunted Republicans ever since and culminated in Trump.
None of the women Biden has been interviewing has Cuomo’s executive experience and star power. His daily briefings during the pandemic have been must-views for those wanting to know what was really going on. We saw him aggressively arranging for new hospital beds and ventilators to prepare for worst-case scenarios. They were not needed because the tough lockdown imposed on New Yorkers stopped the pandemic’s advance. Under Cuomo’s leadership, the curve of sickness and death turned way down to the levels of March.
Unlike Trump, Cuomo never denied the gravity of the situation. He didn’t pull sunny predictions out of the air or push crackpot cures. In dealing with criticism, Cuomo didn’t lose his cool.
Like Trump, Cuomo gets hit with prosecutorial questions from showoff reporters. Unlike Trump, Cuomo gives straight answers to the valid ones and brushes off the others without getting personal.
A pragmatic moderate, Cuomo is well-positioned politically for a national electorate. In the last two gubernatorial primaries, he was challenged from the left and won handily. (How relieved New Yorkers must be that actress Cynthia Nixon isn’t their governor.) Cuomo steers clear of ideological battles and walks around Trump’s taunts.
Back in April, some Democrats were agitating to replace Biden with suddenly heroic Cuomo. That would have shown a flagrant disregard for the voters, and Cuomo himself shot down the idea. But Cuomo as VP could be acceptable.
Could Biden retreat from his vow to choose a female running mate? Yes. Things change, and the women in contention would surely understand. Stacey Abrams, an African American who almost won a governor’s race in Georgia and is high on the list, has already shown flexibility. “I’d be honored to serve,” she said, “but it is up to him.”
Cuomo matches Trump’s tough-guy-from-Queens persona. And Trump scares him not at all. During his 2018 State of the State address, Cuomo had a picture of an empty Oval Office flashing on a screen.
Republicans are spreading concern about Biden’s age, 77, portraying him as feeble. Biden is not that, and Trump, obese and almost 74, is hardly a picture of youthful vigor.
A Vice President Cuomo could reassure Americans that if something were to happen to the president, the ship of state would sail smoothly on. Democrats, you have your ticket to victory in November. Use it.