THE BLOG
11/07/2014 08:49 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Cuomo Wins!/Loses! III

Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Twice before in the last 60 days I've posted pieces with the above title. It was true then and it's true now.

Normally a 13-point win in a down year for Democrats would be good news for the victor. But the Cuomo campaign and his overarching strategy of the past four years were political disasters of a kind you rarely see.

Remember 1) he raised close to $50 million, 10 times his opposition; 2) he had been widely praised for bringing functionality back to New York; 3) New York is reliably blue. One Republican statewide victory and 19 Democratic victories since 2000; 4) he had cajoled and bullied business, labor and the Legislature into submission; no one had ever heard of his opponent; and 5) going into 2014 his poll numbers were excellent.

In spite of all this, he ended up with a primary that was embarrassingly close, a general election that was 10 points worse than his last run and a resurgent progressive third party -- the Green Party, of all things. Editorial boards either opposed him or explicitly held their noses and endorsed him. His campaign appearances were sour and depressing and voter turnout was the lowest in 85 years.

What happened? The easy answer is to blame style and an overbearing persona. It's true, to an extent, but that stuff is inside baseball, beloved of the chattering class but not particularly relevant to voters.

The real reason is a political and public policy bet Cuomo made in 2010, on the heels of an overwhelming victory in the year the tea party crested. In Keystone Kops version of Clinton triangulation, he did two things: On social and identity issues like guns, abortion rights and gay marriage, he moved directly and energetically to the left, twisted arms, led the debate and got laws passed that would make Teddy Kennedy look like a moderate. On economic issues, he moved just as strongly to the right, becoming a supply-side, austerity bug that Paul Ryan would love. He cut the estate tax for a few thousand rich families, eliminated the bank tax, cut income taxes for those making over $300,000, diminished school aid and social spending, and opened the treasury to massive corporate subsidies.

It didn't play. New York was the place that invented the New Deal. It's important to deal with historical and ongoing injustices to social and identity groups. But intellectually and politically, ITES (It's The Economy, Stupid). A progressive social message, if coupled with Herbert Hoover economic policies, is neither good government nor good politics. Democrat voters got it and moved to his primary opponent, or the Green Party, or stayed home in droves.

In the moment it was a bad day for Democrats, for progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio and for the unions and Working Family Party types that had been pushing New York to confront income inequality, progressive taxation and collapsing human and physical infrastructure. In the longer term it's a stern message from voters that austerity and supply-side economics are bad policy and bad politics. Even in Republican states like South Dakota, Nebraska, Alaska and Arkansas voters strongly supported demand-side increases in the minimum wage. In a Democratic state like New York, with FDR hovering over us all, the future is with those who restore economic and political balance, create good paying jobs, enable people who work for a living to earn enough to raise families.

Austerity and supply-side economics don't work to create jobs and they don't work with voters. As 2016 looms, Hillary and the insightful Republicans will figure out how to deal with all that, in different ways, but deal with it they will. After Tuesday no one will want to embrace the economic policies and politics of Andrew Cuomo.