Democrats are publicly talking about “contingency options” for their July convention in Milwaukee in case the coronavirus persists in being a public-health threat. But privately, some are also talking about needing a Plan B if Joe Biden, their nominee apparent, continues to flounder.
Some Democrats are openly talking up New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose profile has soared during the crisis, as a Biden stand-in. Yesterday, a Draft Cuomo 2020 account on Twitter announced that “Times have changed & we need Gov. Cuomo to be the nominee. Our next POTUS must be one w/an ability to lead thru this crisis.”
Charles Pierce, the politics blogger for Esquire magazine, wrote a piece headlined “With Two Words, Andrew Cuomo Established Himself as the Leader This Country Needs Now.” He enthused that Cuomo’s news conference last Friday “essentially (shutting) down the economy of his state . . . was a master class in leveling with the public.”
Fueled by favorable national publicity that governors rarely get, Cuomo has quickly become the standard-bearer for liberals who don’t want to quickly open up parts the economy at the same time we combat the coronavirus. This Tuesday, the governor tweeted: “We are not willing to sacrifice 1-2% of New Yorkers. That’s not who we are. We will fight to save every life we can. I am not giving up.” Last weekend, Cuomo told reporters he might go into Manhattan himself to yell “You are wrong” at people defying his lockdown.
Democrats are increasingly worried that Joe Biden will have trouble being relevant and compelling in the long four months between now and when he is nominated in July. Lloyd Constantine, who was a senior policy adviser to New York governor Eliot Spitzer from 2007 to 2008, puts it bluntly: “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.”
Indeed, Biden seemed to disappear when the virus began dominating the news cycle early in March. Biden’s media presence “abruptly shriveled,” writes Kalev Leetaru, a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. In contrast, daily mentions of Cuomo as of last Sunday “accounted for 1.4 percent of online news coverage compared with 2.9 percent for Trump.”
In an attempt to remain relevant, Biden’s campaign team hastily built a TV studio in the basement of his Wilmington, Del., home and began streaming daily appearances by him from it this week. They have not gone well.
In his first outing on Monday, Biden looked as he were lost somewhere on the set of Wayne’s World, the 1990s comedy movie that pretended it was a public-access cable show broadcast from a basement.
Biden stumbled, slurred his words, misnamed one of the nation’s governors, lost his train of thought, and had to desperately signal to staff for help while he was on camera.
A Tuesday appearance went no better, even though it was with a friendly liberal group of interviewers from ABC’s The View. “We have to take care of the cure. That will make the problem worse no matter what — no matter what,” Biden asserted to universal head scratching. He attempted to pick up on Cuomo’s assertion that lives must be the absolute priority in the crisis — but with limited success: “I don‘t agree with the notion that somehow it’s okay to let the — let people die and I’m not sure that would happen.”
Liberal pundits aren’t even trying to defend Biden’s recent media performances. Alex Wagner, a former MSNBC anchor and current co-host of Showtime’s political-magazine show The Circus, wrote a piece this week for The Atlantic magazine called: “Stay Alive, Joe Biden: Democrats need little from the front-runner beyond his corporeal presence.” She discussed Biden’s current status as if he barely existed: “Biden was never really convincing anyone on the stump — his political power at this point is an idea, held collectively, about how to defeat Trump.”
Of course, the mathematics of how Governor Cuomo could be drafted to become the Democratic nominee are daunting. He has zero delegates and no campaign and can’t be seen as being distracted by politics during a crisis. But Emily Zanotti of The Daily Wire says that if states continue to postpone or cancel upcoming primaries, a window of opportunity could be there: “Cuomo may be able to fill a hole for needy Democrats who are concerned that neither of the two frontrunners, [Bernie] Sanders and Biden, are within striking distance of winning a majority of delegates and the Democratic nomination outright.”
And strange things happen in politics. In 1940, businessman Wendell Willkie didn’t enter a single primary, his supporters pinning their hopes on a receptive audience of delegates at the Republican convention. Skeptic Alice Roosevelt Longworth sneered that his support came “from the grass roots of 10,000 country clubs.”
Then the Nazi blitzkrieg struck. Adolf Hitler overran the Low Countries and France in May and June of 1940. The French signed an armistice on June 22, the day Willkie arrived in Philadelphia for the Republican convention. The international crisis and how the party should respond to it dominated delegate deliberations. After a series of carefully orchestrated “spontaneous” demonstrations of delegate support, Willkie was nominated on the sixth ballot. His campaign stumbled in the fall and he lost 55 percent to 45 percent to incumbent Franklin Roosevelt. But he achieved something no one had thought possible by even getting nominated.
Of course, much has changed since 1940, and conventions are no longer such free-wheeling affairs as they were then. But Democrats know that politics has again become fluid and surprising in recent years — witness the strength of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in their respective parties.
Joe Biden began his presidential campaign as the front-runner last year. Then he was almost eclipsed by crushing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, only to be rescued by a landslide victory in South Carolina. He of all people knows that if we look at how the nomination battle has gone so far, nothing is really over until it’s over.