Bye-Bye Biden? Obama to Call on Cuomo?

Bye-Bye Biden? Obama to Call on Cuomo? July 5, 2011

I’ve been wondering when people would start talking about this possibility:

President Obama is reportedly considering tapping New York governor Andrew Cuomo to take the place of Vice President Joe Biden in the upcoming 2012 presidential election, a move that could add a fresh face to the Obama administration.

There are many reasons why this might make sense.  Among them:

  1. Senator Biden was once considered, even by people who had met him before, a serious thinker on questions of international affairs, and his presence on the ticket was meant to reassure Americans concerned by Obama’s inexperience that there was a steady hand at the wheel of American foreign policy.  Yet (i) this is one area where the Obama administration generally receives high marks, especially following the killing of Osama bin Laden; (ii) no one can credibly claim anymore that Obama has no experience in foreign policy matters; and (iii) Biden has not exactly taken a leading role on foreign policy in any case.  Hillary Clinton has, and it sounds as though President Obama has frequently gone directly against the Veep’s wishes in major foreign policy decisions.  Finally, (iv) the 2012 election is not going to be about foreign policy, but about jobs and economic growth.  Cuomo can credibly claim some expertise in both, given his experience with HUD and now some experience as the chief executive of America’s third-largest state.
  2. A massive part of Obama’s appeal in 2008 was simply that he was new and different, a substantial change from what had gone before.  Now, Obama is the status quo, and no one screams “establishment” louder than Joe Biden.  Cuomo, due to his victory in the fight for the legalization of gay marriage, now has a kind of outsider, insurgent, rising-star feel.
  3. While Obama hardly needs help winning New York State, bringing Cuomo on the ticket could help Obama fundraise from wealthy (especially gay) New Yorkers, could help deliver New Jersey (which is likely in Obama’s camp anyway, but not a given), and will certainly please the base.  The hard-core Democratic activists, especially gay-rights activists, have been pretty displeased with the President they helped to elect.  Obama has shown little courage on cultural issues.  To be sure, the Democratic party will do its best to portray the GOP candidate as the very incarnation of Hate, so much of the base would vote against the GOP candidate and in support of Obama.  But their enthusiasm, their involvement, their funds, would be far lesser than they were in 2008.  Cuomo could move the needle on all those issues.
  4. When people speak of the “enthusiasm gap,” they’re typically referring to the voters.  But don’t underestimate the importance of media enthusiasm.  The press are not as enthralled with Obama as they once were.  This makes them more likely to criticize, to investigate, to — you know — do their jobs as opposed to cheerleading.  Yet the media are deeply enthralled with Cuomo right now, and the selection of Cuomo would give them reason to love Obama all over again.  We would be treated to all sorts of articles and reports on what a wise and visionary decision Obama had made.
  5. Finally, Joe Biden is not going to be the heir to the Obama legacy.  He can’t be.  He’s too old.  Even if Obama/Biden won in 2012, Democrats in 2016 would be in the position Republicans were after Bush: with a two-term President on the way out with no clear successor in place.  On the other hand, Obama could bring in Cuomo, set up Cuomo as the heir apparent for 2016, and if Cuomo were reelected in 2016 then he would be a validation of, and bring continuity from, the Obama administration.

In the right venues, the Obama/Cuomo campaign would play up the possibility that Cuomo could accomplish on a national level what he did on a state level, making gay marriage legal.  You don’t think that would bring in a tremendous amount of money from wealthy gays in New York and California, and a tremendous amount of support from the media, entertainment, and academic sectors?

Are there any reasons not to do it?  Let me know if you think of others, but here are the ones that come to mind for me:

  1. It would be seen as an act of desperation.  Love him or hate him, Obama’s confidence, his cerebral and unrattled demeanor, are a part of his public persona.  The incumbent President is supposed to seem all but invincible, his reelection all but inevitable.  Beginning the campaign with a tacit admission that you are thoroughly scared of losing with your current lineup does not help the cause.  That said, remember how quickly and completely Obama reversed many of his far-liberal positions when he transitioned from the primary to the general election in 2008?  He may decide it’s better just to get the negative part over-with at the start, and build from there.  The ‘desperation’ storyline would pass.
  2. The same person who helps you get elected may not help you govern well, and vice versa.  Although Bush could have dumped Cheney in 2004 in favor of others who would have been more beneficial for his reelection, he kept Cheney because Bush was loyal to a fault and Cheney helped him govern.  Obama is famously ruthless in his personal relationships, so Biden may not be able to count on personal loyalty; but if Biden actually helps Obama, you know, be a good President, then Obama may wish to keep him around.
  3. Biden is popular with party insiders and theoretically he helps deliver the administration’s agenda to the Congress.  That hasn’t worked out so well in the debt-ceiling impasse, but it may work in other cases.  Plus, his popularity with the party establishment would make it tough to turn him out on the streets.  If the President could arrange a cozy appointment for Biden (ambassador to China, Secretary of State…?) and Biden could take the move graciously, it might work.  But that liberal beltway establishment, which has never been entirely warm to Obama, might not take it well if it came across as a betrayal of Biden.
  4. Cuomo may make less sense for reelection than it first appears.  What really matters are the swing states like Florida and Ohio.  While he helps Obama fundraise in New York and California, he does not help Obama win those electoral college votes, which he will win regardless.  But would the great champion of same-sex marriage, a New Yorker with some questionable accomplishments and associations, really help Obama’s cause in the swing states?  Actually, having the champion of gay marriage on the ballot might rally social conservatives to the polls in a powerful way.
  5. In his tenure as HUD Secretary, Cuomo was a major part of the push to deliver loans to low-income minorities, partly by putting in place the policies that encouraged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase the home loans for individuals meeting lower and lower standards.  Edward J. Pinto, former chief credit officer at Fannie Mae, said “Cuomo was pushing mortgage bankers to make loans and basically saying you have to offer a loan to everybody.”  This opens up a Republican line of attack that Obama’s bringing on board one of the major actors in causing the subprime mortgage meltdown, when Obama would much rather blame the meltdown on deregulation and rich Republican greed.
  6. It’s not at all clear whether Cuomo would accept the invitation.  He has only been in office as the Governor of New York for about seven months now.  He may wish to build his executive bonafides with a successful term as governor before running for the big office in 2016.  Also, he deferred to Hillary Clinton when Hillary wanted to run for the Senate, and Hillary might well feel that if anyone should be invited onto the ticket, it should be her.  (And she would have a point.)
  7. Finally, some would suggest that President Obama is not eager to share the spotlight, and Cuomo is not eager to be out of it.  As Toby Harnden writes (I find much of his other analysis unpersuasive), “Would Obama choose a running mate whose leadership is held in higher esteem than his by Democrats?”  Either Obama or his advisors may wish to keep the attention where it properly belongs, at the top.  This is the Obama show; it is ultimately Obama himself the voters must trust.

What do you think?

Andrew Cuomo

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