First off, he was not named Hamlet on the Hudson simply for his internal debating and delaying with running for president in 1988 and 1992. He earned it from decades of equivocating. He had one thing in common with our current president, he hated the actual horse trading and normal routines of politics. In 1973, after amazing press for a fight for an ethnic neighborhood and then working for Mayor Lindsay in the Forest Hills fiasco that his later mayoral opponent Ed Koch would take the other side on, Cuomo did not run for mayor. Cuomo nearly did not run for mayor in 1977 if not for Governor Carey pushing him to do so, and hoping to install Cuomo as a better partner to work with in reordering the city's finances after the New York City fiscal crisis. He was always reluctant like others were forcing him to do something. Maybe he just wanted to have a hipster "I didn't really care if I won" excuse if he lost.
What if Cuomo Plays the Game in '77 and Wins as Mayor?
Cuomo did not like the deal making. This cost him Bella Abzug's bloc of voters. It cost him different ethnic blocs as Cuomo repeatedly refused to tell leaders of ethnic blocs that he would put "their guy" in a job or other. Despite the destruction of the Tammany machine, the patronage system existed and people wanted a piece. As Cuomo did not secure these blocs, Koch swept in and piece by piece collected them to his base that resembled the old Fusion Ticket (I'll cover Fusion in another post). Koch campaigned on law and order and laid off thousands of city workers. Hard to see Cuomo doing this, even with Gov. Carey standing over him. The big interests fear of Cuomo is that he would not play with the finance interests the city and state needed to survive. Koch knew where his bread was buttered. Cuomo could have accelerated the problems that would later hit NYC through his policies. This is hard to see since NYC was poised to launch the FIRE economic resurgence in the US, but it would have been messy with him juggling so many pieces and being a bit of a cautious fellow. NYC was seen as a dead end political job, so it is likely Mayor Cuomo stays Mayor Cuomo through the '80s and NY declines a bit quicker before the big reboot. The mid to late '80s New York Governorship would have been filled by Robert Adams (very likely) or Mark Green.
What if Cuomo Loses the 1982 Governor's Race?
I just wanted to throw this in here because Cuomo's republican opponent, Lew Lehrman, ran what we would clearly identify with as a modern campaign. The 44 year old Lehrman spent tons of money, had massive media buys and ran opposite of the sitting president of his own party's ideas. Lehrman was a bit like Dave Stockman in the dislike of neocon policy. It was as good as a Republican in 1982 could run and despite the Democrat overwhelming edge in registered voters and national meh feeling about Reaganomics. Cuomo beat Lehrman by just 3%. If Cuomo loses in '82, his career dies as a multiple time loser. He becomes a footnote in idealism that did not have the balls to win. Lehrman in place in NY in the '80s as the economy grew would be interesting come 1988 whether he'd be a viable POTUS candidate or just a VP selection.
What if Cuomo Runs for President in 1988?
Mrs. Clinton will have been a "will she or won't she" for POTUS in '04, '08, '12 and '16. Before her, Cuomo had the previous honor as Hamlet on the Hudson did not run in '88 despite the destruction of Gary Hart's campaign due to "marital infidelity". How quaint in retrospect. Despite widespread adoration for reading his teleprompter at the 1984 Democratic convention and liberal activists begging him to enter the race, he declined. If Cuomo runs, the same fate awaited him that Dukakis faced. All the northeast liberal attacks on Dukakis would have fit Cuomo equally as well, and the famous death penalty question would have waited for Cuomo who famously had embarrassed himself with in '77. Cuomo would have suffered the same money problems Dukakis faced. The demographics were not there yet for the liberals. They would have to wait. Cuomo would have lost and served out his term in 1990. Running for governor for a third term might have been off his list had he already tried and failed for president. No reason to take up that spot for another Democrat hopeful. Put the party first people.
What if Bill Clinton Nominates Mario Cuomo to the Supreme Court?
Cuomo was a possibility for the Supreme Court. He would have climbed onto the bench and voted as your standard liberal justice with no famous words. One thing might have been different. Cuomo's little ethnic upbringing may have persuaded him to side with the conservatives in the Kelo case. Just that one change, and it's a win for the little guy.
What if Cuomo Runs for President in 1992 and Wins?
Now we get to real Cuomo possibilities, and one's with huge effect on the nation. A forgotten thing in the 1992 election was that the DLC had quickly learned from their failure in 1988 and supported just one candidate for the Democrat nomination for president. They had changed primary schedules for Super Tuesdays in 1992 to be a South and Midwest heavy slate. This geared towards their selected man, in this case Bill Clinton. The coastal liberal wing of the Democrats and union guys realized too late what the DLC was doing, and sent Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown, the '70s and 2010s governor of California, to try to kill off Clinton. It did not work. The rest is history.
If Cuomo enters from the start, he performs like Paul Tsongas (giant surprise) and Brown did but knows he has the NY primary in the bag, Bill Clinton becomes a footnote. He had too much baggage to be a VP for Cuomo, but the DLC probably would have forced Gore on Cuomo to mend the two wings of the party for the general. The election rolls out completely different because Ross Perot had a lead in polls as late as May. Clinton was polling in the low 20s in the three way race. How much of it was due to Clinton being a virtual unknown from a hick state? Probably more than Clinton would like to admit. Cuomo could have been smeared as a coastal liberal, but unlike 1988, things had already changed. Pat Buchanan had dared to speak the name culture war, and played into the media's hands of the right now being the aggressor and the left being the victim. This was on the heels of Dan Quayle being upset over Murphy Brown's single mother choice. Right in retrospect, but it played into a frame of "the Right is going to legislate your life" unlike the former frame of "the left is a wacko crew pushing you down a slippery slope". We know the truth now, but in 1992, combined with a slowly recovering economy, it worked for the Dems. Cuomo wins, but then what?
Reading books on the early Clinton presidency, policy was all focused on economics. Politicians on both sides were also scared because of Perot's great showing. The battle for the economic policy was between Robert Reich and Robert Rubin. Rubin, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, was now the chief national economic policy advisor to Clinton and boss of Ken Brody who had been chief Wall Street campaign fundraiser for Clinton, who became the head of the Export-Import Bank. Recall: bribes are formalized in America. Rubin represented the technocratic FIRE economy that was ascendant in the '80s. Reich was not bringing money to Clinton's campaign, and Reich was pro-labor and the productive economy. In battle after battle Rubin won. One of the biggest was NAFTA. Another lesser known battle was strong dollar vs. weak dollar. Rubin supported strong dollar to help NY as a financial center and the dollar as a reserve currency. Reich supported a weak dollar for labor's advantage. Strong dollar won. If Cuomo wins, he has no DLC money bag man.
SOBL as the Amazing Kreskin says that with the massive Democrat majorities in Congress:
1. Cuomo goes weak dollar.
2. Cuomo kicks NAFTA to the curb as the DLC bag men aren't everywhere.
2a. No Mexican Tequila crisis, which also means lower flow of illegals in second half of '90s.
3. Cuomo goes for healthcare. Gets something after a lot of equivocating.
4. Cuomo listens to Barbara Jordan's commission on immigration (unlike faker Clinton) to help labor and out of fear over California's 1994 election on Prop 187 and Gov. Pete Wilson as an opponent in 1996.
5. Gingrich "Contract with America" Republicans still win in 1994.
6. Cuomo vetoes Welfare Reform after a lot of dithering.
7. Economy expands but not as much as it did under Clinton.
8. Cuomo loses to Colin Powell (Pete Wilson if his throat heals faster, it's my counterfactual dammit!) in 1996. For progressives, becomes new beloved Jimmy Carter idealist beaten by meanie GOP when he wasn't given "enough time".
9. Writes memoir how he didn't really want the presidency but he did it for the people.
10. Protection of labor on the left, slowed flow of illegal immigration and legal immigration, and potentially less white flight from California leaves some states more purple, including California. Remember California whites vote more R than whites in New England (Romney got 53% in CA w/o much media purchasing).
11. DLC and New Left battle in late '90s in vicious open ways.
12. Campaign finance reform is pushed much harder in the media as the DLC has not shown FIRE that it can get its way with D candidates.
12a. Some DLC contributors fade away.
13. Deregulation is a much tougher and slower fight since it is GOP Congress vs. Cuomo and the Press.
14. The economy still has bubbles but they get pushed off for several years. President Powell is re-elected in 2000.
15. You never ever learn the name Barack Obama.
What if Cuomo Runs for President in 1992 and Loses?
See above for the Democrat party fighting in '92, but what if in the general, Cuomo still loses? At his heart, he sucked as a campaigner. Another weird twist, he was a member of the Silent Generation and no Silent Generation member has ever been president. What if when Perot halted his campaign, Papa Bush has a bit of Nixon inspiration, and gives Perot what Perot think would be a good job but is in fact garbage, VP, with a mandate for special help with budget concerns. This is a big what if, but Perot was a go getter who wanted to work with the Nixon White House, and they said he had tremendous energy and ideas but no clue how the government worked. At the convention, Papa Bush junks the liability Quayle and picks up Perot in a surprise as Perot had temporarily suspended his campaign. Genius move saves the day.
SOBL as the Amazing Kreskin says that with the massive Democrat majorities in Congress:
*Most of what happens above for Cuomo happens for Papa Bush with some differences.*
2. NAFTA becomes a fight that is abandoned as the DLC's prestige is not buoyed to sway Democrats to vote for it since they failed to win the nomination to the presidency.
3. Immigration becomes a focal point as the union Left and Buchanan wing of the GOP flexes muscle helped by Prop 187.
4. The slow change in national politics continues where the South goes red, but America is more purple, and the Gingrich Republican Revolution never happens. Cthulu swims left, just slower.
5. The 1996 election has a fractious fight on the left as the coastal elite left fights the DLC much smarter in '96. The GOP faces 16 years of old white man fatigue and looks to Colin Powell for a symbolic face lift. Powell wins.
6. Deregulation is incredibly tough with a GOP president vs. a split Congress and the Press.
7. The budget gap closes but never becomes a surplus as the capital gains from the stock market bubble does not put tax revenue over the top.
8. Powell rides a healthy economy to re-election victory. Same responses to 9/11, and America falls for supporting another invasion of Iraq because "Powell did it in '91, he'll finish the job now".
9. Cuomo writes a memoir about his lost bid in 1992, saying he never wanted to run anyway.
10. You never ever learn the name Barack Obama.
I had to get to ten. Governor Cuomo is just a stock liberal politician of the 20th century. Yes, he was an old ethnic lefty who loved the working class, but he would be home right now in the current left. Cuomo would stand before crowds and talk the sweet clichés that we hear Obama speak for the lower class, and not once would a single Wall Street executive see time behind bars. The left is lamenting the loss of old dear liberal. It is nostalgia for a man that they loved who failed to live up to their expectations of him. There is another lament. Now, with the big corporate money and absolute control of the media and academia, the lefty pundits realize Mario Cuomo was a man who arrived too soon.