Here in the deep blue bunker of New York State, it’s hard to fathom that national Democrats find themselves at low ebb.
After all, the average New Yorker wakes up each morning with Democrats controlling all four statewide posts, the Assembly and the big cities. The GOP hangs on in the Senate, but only with the help of eight Democratic renegades sharing power with the Republicans.
But national Democrats encounter a different story following the November elections. Donald Trump – who says he’s a Republican but whom nobody has yet really figured out – now lives in the White House. Republicans control the House and Senate. Democratic governors now run only a third of the states, and the party counts 900 fewer state legislators than when Barack Obama took over Washington in 2009.
So while Gov. Andrew Cuomo knows he’s got it good in super-Democratic New York, he is not oblivious to the carnage his party has experienced in recent years. While in Buffalo a few days ago, he offered his observations. It boils down to an appeal to the middle class, he said. Trump offered it; the Democrats did not.
Now Cuomo says the party “is going through a post-mortem and a grieving process. The party should go through an intelligent, retrospective analysis of what happened and when. This is not about a month or one week or two weeks.”
Fellow New Yorker Chuck Schumer – the Senate minority leader – often points to the middle class, too. Both high-profile Democrats say the policies of the state and nation should focus on former manufacturing cities like Buffalo. Cuomo says the displaced in those places have “felt tremendous pain for a very long period.”
Democrats missed it all this time around, he said.
“Government was politics as usual and their life was declining and hope for their children was declining,” Cuomo said. “They were failed by their governmental institutions and they had enough. They heard about everyone’s problems but their own. That’s what exploded on Election Day.”
For a long time, Cuomo has recognized those formerly making good livings in manufacturing centers like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Schenectady now face fewer opportunities.
Nobody can say he has ignored those places with programs like the Buffalo Billion and others. His opponents nevertheless argue the approach is misguided; that the lower taxes and fewer regulations of places like Texas offer a more effective approach.
That argument will forever rage in New York, because the Democrats are not going away soon. So in the meantime, Democratic policies and programs continue here. But the governor says national Democrats must still “get it.” They still don’t get that some in the middle class have seen home values wither and prospects for their kids attending college wither, too.
“Half of the homes of middle-class New Yorkers are worth less money than pre-recession,” he said. “You’re scared to death when your kid says, ‘Pop, can you pay for college?’ What do you do, put up your house? That’s been there, but nobody talked to that person and it exploded.
Trump felt it, he touched it, and I don’t think the Democratic Party was speaking to it.”
The smart Democrats will no longer ignore the middle class. The ones thinking about the national stage – and we’ll include Cuomo in that category despite his protests – will have to reconnect with the people they missed in 2016.
The governor says he knows what to do.
“You need a middle-class economic agenda like that,” he said, pointing to the books and slides outlining his State of the State and 2017-2018 budget proposals. They contain his ideas for free tuition at state colleges and Buffalo Billion Squared, which he maintains will create jobs.
No one should dismiss for a moment that Cuomo and others will talk about these things on the national stage. Democrats in disarray know their situation must be addressed.
Now we know how at least one will go about it.