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It was late March of last year, and the country was just beginning to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus began sweeping across the country and states began to lock down, the progress of the Democratic presidential primary began to stop.
At this point in the calendar, Joe Biden had somehow found a way to overcome a lack of enthusiasm for his campaign, a sexual assault allegation, and a pathetic underperformance in both Iowa and New Hampshire, to emerge as the prohibitive front-runner for the nomination.
Bernie Sanders, for his part, was doing well, but not well enough to truly threaten to take the nomination, though there were members of his circle who thought he could make a late charge.
Democrats, though, were worried. While President Donald Trump was certainly viewed as vulnerable prior to the pandemic, he was also an incumbent with a lot of money, a white hot economy and a very loyal base of support that would never abandon him. To beat a candidate like that, the logic went, they were going to need someone who would fight with Trump tooth and nail.
The dissatisfaction with Biden is hardly a surprise. He represents, in many ways, the old left that has long since been left behind by modern progressivism. He is a stodgy creature of the establishment, a career politician, and a back slapping member of the old guard in the Senate. He is decidedly left-wing, but not in the same way that Sanders or Elizabeth Warren are.
That isn’t what the left wants, any more than the right wants the likes of Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell anymore. Both ideological poles are searching for authentic, aggressive, ideologically combative fighters who come from the outside of the political swamp that is Washington, D.C.
And so the wandering eyes of Democrats drifted to New York, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“As the number of Americans impacted by the deadly coronavirus continues to climb,” read one report from ABC News in March, “some voters looking for decisive action are turning to state leaders for guidance — chief among them, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose daily press conferences and emphatic communication style has gradually captivated audiences across the nation over the last month.”
Cuomo, at this point, was gaining national attention for his response to the pandemic. His daily press briefings were well received marathon affairs each day, making people in New York and beyond feel as though he was in charge, and was dealing effectively with the situation. Cuomo even won an Emmy for the briefings.
An opinion poll from around the same time by Siena College showed that a whopping 87 percent of New York residents approved of Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic. A month later, his overall job approval rating stood at 71 percent.
A “Draft Cuomo” movement began, seeking to throw a wild card into the Democratic primary by promoting Cuomo as a superior option to either Biden or Sanders. After all, compared to Biden’s entrenched insider personality, Cuomo was everything the progressives wanted while still being traditional and established enough to be a more realistic option than Sanders.
To be fair, such a draft movement never had any actual hope of success. The rules for the Democratic primary — and the logistical hurdles alone — made the idea a virtual impossibility from the beginning.
Yet, the impulse was still meaningful. At the time, Cuomo was among the perceived heroes of the pandemic, and a powerful cult of personality had developed around him. That cult of personality made him a symbol for all that was right and good and competent in government, and a point around which comparisons to dastardly villains — like Trump, or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example — could be made.
And yet, it was all a fiction.
Not only was New York’s response to COVID-19 an utter disaster from day one, but Cuomo has now been exposed as an incompetent, corrupt leader unworthy of any support, and deserving of being run from office. With due respect to the sexual harassment allegations, it is actually his administration’s incompetent handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes, and then his intentional coverup of the data that showed the damage of his decision making that is the most unforgivable sin.
Now, Cuomo is an inch away from being forced to resign, and should serve for all time as an example of how not to lead.
Remember that the next time you find yourself getting swept up into another cult-like devotion to a single person.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.