A few years ago the race for Mayor of New York City seemed to be a battle between popular Congressman Anthony Weiner and trailblazing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. There would be other candidates, of course, including the big, oafy Bill Lambeer of a Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. But everyone knew where the smart money was. Then the Anthony Weiner thing happened. And happened again. And at the same time, Quinn’s support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s dicey third term was sinking her candidacy. But there was Bill. And after he beat the paper puppet the GOP sort of ran against him, he was mayor. Last week, he became more.
On “Meet the Press,” de Blasio absolutely threw Hillary Clinton under the bus. If you are a stalwart who ran her 2000 campaign and was sworn in as mayor by her husband you don’t hesitate on the day of her announcement. At least not without good reason. But he does have a good reason, as the New York Times illustrates in its story on de Blasio’s national progressive push. He gave a speech in Iowa this past week. Warren and Sanders aren’t running. This is the new progressive standard bearer. Welcome to the national significance of Bill de Blasio.
Now the New York Post reports that de Blasio is secretly involved in a push to create a campaign to draft him into the Democratic primary. Its a clever tactic, a way of announcing without actually announcing. He can toss his hat in the ring without the attendant complications of actually running for president. But if the Post is right, and frankly even if they aren’t, de Blasio is in the campaign now. What is interesting about this development is that it is a win-win-win. De Blasio’s candidacy helps everyone involved, it helps Hillary Clinton, it helps the GOP, and it helps Bill de Blasio.
The scuttlebutt on the Clinton campaign from both sides is that she needs a challenge from the Left. As Rebecca Traister at The New Republic points out, Clinton’s popularity is dependent upon her being scrappy and vulnerable. Fighting off a de Blasio challenge gives her just that opportunity. It also makes the Democratic primary about issues instead of being months and months of critiquing her etiquette at Chipotle. Unlike the challenge that Barack Obama presented in 2008, there is very little chance that de Blasio can actually beat her. Many people, including myself, thought that was the case regarding Obama’s 2008 challenge to Clinton, but the fact is de Blasio has few of the demographic advantages that sank the Clinton Titanic six years ago.
Another factor that makes a potential de Blasio run against Clinton very different is that, unlike Obama, de Blasio can make no pretense about being a moderate. He is a Progressive, plain and simple. Whether he runs or not, he is clearly already pushing the Clinton campaign on income inequality and foreign affairs. There is an internal war ready to happen in the Democratic Party. It’s going to look a lot like the battle between the Tea Party and establishment Republicans over the past six years. It will be ugly and full of recriminations. And this is exactly how a de Blasio candidacy will help the GOP, even though it also helps Clinton.
The Republican Party has spent the entire Obama administration fighting against shadow progressivism. At every turn, we have been told that Obama is a moderate. After all, the Affordable Care Act was the plan Republicans wanted in 1993. On gay marriage he was…well, never mind. But the point is that the GOP has not had the opportunity to tackle the policies of the far Left because the current president obfuscates them at every turn. In 2008, he was the challenger from the Left. As a result, he has never had to defend those bona fides, even when once-allies like Cornell West call him a sell-out. de Blasio will give every Republican contender the opportunity to attack American progressivism. And that’s a fight the GOP dearly wants.
On a slew of issues, from trans rights to climate change to death taxes, conservatives are ready to fight the Left. But there has to be a Left to fight. de Blasio is that Left. From his long-haired, 1980s Sandinista-loving, Che Guevara T-shirt-wearing youth to his current attacks on carriage horses and effective policing, de Blasio is the change he wants to see in the world. That is exactly the change conservatives want to fight. But until now it has been a moving target. The Left has been “science,” it has been a rational view of the world that no educated person can refute, it has not been a choice to radically change the way we view America and ourselves. A de Blasio candidacy will make it that. And if I were Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or Jeb Bush, I would salivate at the chance to fight that fight.
Finally, the biggest winner in a run by Hizzoner would be Hizzoner. As noted above, de Blasio fell backwards into the mayoralty of New York City. When everyone else fell apart, there he was. Is it possible that one of the scandals circling around Clinton could blow up? Benghazi, the emails, Bill Clinton’s trips to underage sex parties? Of course it is. And if nobody else has the courage to challenge her, he could wind up the nominee by default. Does that sound crazy? Well, it’s pretty much how he became mayor of the most important city in the world. So maybe not so crazy. But even if he loses, and loses badly, he still wins.
As it stands right now, the chances of any Democrat defeating de Blasio in a 2017 mayoral primary seem remote. And there is no Republican, excepting maybe Brooklyn State Rep. Nicole Maliotakis, who has the slightest chance of beating him in a general election. But if the mayor makes any kind of noise in a presidential election, his gravitas will immediately obliterate any serious contender from any party. And whether Clinton wins or loses the 2016 election, he will have positioned himself as the standard-bearer of the new Left, whom we all supposedly know through demographics and cultural change will be the dominant force of the future. In short, challenging Clinton is a no-brainer. He really can’t lose, especially if he loses.
Bill de Blasio is a bad mayor. He would be a terrible president. His views on almost every issue skew towards a distrust and disagreement with American principles of governance. But we need him. Every one of us needs a national figure who will not run away from the absurd positions of the far Left, who will actively defend them and get on TV to do so. The coy Warrens and Sanders of the world seem comfortable in their closely held political positions, unwilling to ask national questions they might not like the answers to. But not de Blasio. He wants this fight. For all of our sakes, he should get that fight. And we should finally decide what our country is and what it means. Neither Hillary Clinton nor her eventual opponent can get us there. The mayor of New York City can. And everyone, on every side, should welcome it.