Cuomo’s star power exposes Biden drawbacks

Who imagines in four months that Cuomo, a thunderous governor without a federal record and unscarred by any campaign dust-ups, would refuse the party nomination?

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Weird twist of fate re-frames who can beat Trump

What a curious reversal in the air. Steadfast reformer Sanders bows out, thus handing the nomination to Status Quo Joe — just when NY Governor Cuomo blazes forth forward as the most visible, vigorous anti-Trump.  Recent Biden TV appearances reveal more command than during dismal primary debates, especially how government works.  Nothing like an epic crisis to make a veteran pol look better than a befuddled amateur over his head– so disabled he resists, then undercut his own expert advisors. Has Trump’s empty bluster ever been more shrill — or more counterproductive to re-election? As WP’s Greg Sargent reports, “Trump’s narcissism is endangering his reelection. His own advisers admit it:”

“President Trump’s advisers are reportedly deeply worried that his narcissistic daily briefings on coronavirus are hurting his reelection chances. That’s revealing, in that it shows Trump’s unshakable faith in his ability to manipulate the news cycle with his magical reality-bending powers is not shared by his data-focused team . . . some Republicans — and some of Trump’s own advisers — agree with this, and are deeply worried about it.”  

Trump thus backfires with unforced errors just as Cuomo kills it. If Democratic convention delegates (as rumored) are exploring Cuomo chances, then Bernie has a good reason to unsuspend his suspended campaign. If no first ballot winner emerges, Democrats are free to choose a younger, more articulate, less baggage-laden “incumbent killer” from NY.  Who knows what also advances Sanders’ reforms?

Many on the left are still mystified why many millions of “pragmatic” Dems defaulted to Status Quo Joe as the strongest challenger to take down the “what-me-worry” buffoon. What a spectacular failure of imagination, daily reinforced now by Cuomo’s compelling media performances. The timing is especially ill-timed for the non-campaigning Biden. For here’s Cuomo, the non-candidate, whose last potent few weeks define the ideal media offset to Dismal Don. See this brilliant contrast by media critic Jon Katz, “The Cuomo Brothers Versus The President: What A Show!”

A man of the people

If Rep. Clyburn’s key SC primary endorsement hit the mark with Biden, then Cuomo is a shoe-in. The esteemed Clyburn rescued Biden with the simplicity of “I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us.” Translation: Biden has the common touch, comes from ordinary people and relates to just plain folks. No doubt, especially when compared to the smarter, snappier Warren or Mayor Pete. 

Yet in real-time and real action, Cuomo more than matches Biden on the common touch meter. Katz captures why:

“Governor Cuomo speaks directly, and in a working-class, every man,  Queens accent. . . he is hitting out of the park. . . Cuomo has also done some fusion – politics, disaster, family, and television. . . suddenly has a vast audience. . . Cuomo is now the anti-Trump, the dream Democratic candidate.

[Opposite Trump] Cuomo takes full responsibility for telling people to shelter in place. If you have to blame anyone, he says, blame me. I’m the guy at the top. His strength is contagious. So is his calm. . . this new and warmer leadership style is a huge hit, all over the country. . . He always talks about the little guy at the bottom of the pile and how to protect them. . . No wonder President Trump seems rattled, reading off of his prepared text in a monotone while Cuomo orates spontaneously, quoting Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln . . . Trump’s great success is that he has convinced the very people who need a leader the most that he is their salvation. And many people now think that Governor Cuomo is their salvation.”

Sure, Biden boasts a working class storyline, addressing “folks” about “malarkey.” But for all those under 60, Biden seems like (indeed is) a relic, not just pre-Obama but pre-Bill Clinton. Biden’s long and spotty past is full of land mines — a bull’s eye for a bullying con artist. Best of all, Cuomo the non-candidate seems downright selfless. His fireside chats cover numbers and fatalities, begging for essential equipment, support for first responders — and all to cut suffering and save lives. What could be more noble or inspiring? Where’s any Biden “beef” to match this true reality-show, driven by pain and tragedy?  The damped-down Biden seems more the ghostly phantom against Cuomo’s mastery and sweep, the governor very much the calm, fated leader at the center of the storm. The parallels here are as obvious as they are painful for Biden fans.

Certainly both contrast the overwhelmed, scatter-gun Trump, coming across as tardy school kid waving his arms as the last school bus pulls away. Not only has Trump, despite opportunities galore, failed to marshal federal might, he’s all over the place, rife with contradictions, carping at experts, and dangerously over-promising untested “cures” still months off, if they work at all.

Instead, Cuomo is the laser-focused, hilltop general overseeing the entire battle, conceding damage, assessing resources, all the while orchestrating his single-minded “war” against the invisible enemy.  Cuomo looks like the true war president, while Trump is the ill-trained corporal who senses something is wrong but remains clueless: “Oh my, this is bad, we should do something. Right, back to work, keep shoveling and get that latrine in place.”

Ambushing the comeback kid

I have long argued Trump is his own worst enemy but until now no one so well boxed him in, nicely timed as the pandemic exposes gross unfitness. No bluster obscures the awful damage from Trump denial, deflection and mendacity: needless shortages, refusal to manage, and ultimately enormous disease and death totals. If politics doesn’t come down to negligence about living and dying of citizens, then what?

Winning the presidency has never been more about sparkling media performance. So far Trump has been the master entertainer, the better soundbite actor, certainly against timid foes. What happens against a stronger media performer, skillfully balancing facts and figures with mastery of the whole, all blended with emotion, compassion and comfort?  If that’s not the ideal steamroller against a make-believe president, I don’t know what is.

A real choice, not an echo

Many of us defy the belief Status Quo Joe was ever the best David to take down the Goonish Goliath. Even if Biden doesn’t falter, nor his age, body, or chronic gaffs take their toll, what a double whammy to nominate a weary has-been? Not only because Biden’s baggage and vulnerabilities are grist for Trump’s mill, but because now there is a better candidate, with clear positives, no national scandals, in the wings and defining prime time. 

Who imagines in four months that Cuomo, a thunderous governor without a federal record and unscarred by any campaign dust-ups, would refuse the party nomination? By then, Cuomo will be stronger and Trump the Fabled Failure weaker. Competence grows not in a vacuum. In the meantime, let us all acknowledge one looming downside for Biden: Cuomo’s brilliance makes Status Quo Joe look aged and tired, not a powerful, vibrant candidate against the sleaziest, nastiest incumbent in our history. Is this a real choice or what?


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.