Bill de Blasio was already lagging in cachet among the congested prospective Democratic 2020 presidential primary field, so the last thing the New York City mayor needed when he visited Iowa over the Feb. 23-24 weekend was a snowstorm. But that’s what he got, and it led to even smaller numbers of Iowans turning out to hear the Big Apple pol use the word “progressive” every chance he got.
“It’s important to respect and dignify the concerns of rural communities,” the mayor, who has not declared his candidacy but says he has not ruled out a run for the White House, told the Des Moines Register in an interview. “It’s not progressive to ignore them.” Moderates took over the Democratic Party in recent decades, but progressivism is making a revival, he told a small gathering at a restaurant in Sioux City. These are not exactly head-turning statements from a man who traveled all the way from Manhattan.
The New York Post reports 25 people turned out to see de Blasio at Rebos restaurant. “I’ll be honest — I’m not 100 percent sure what he’s doing here,” Vladimir Landman, a transplanted New Yorker, told The Post. Fifty people were on hand for de Blasio’s appearance at Machinist Hall in Des Moines, The Post reports. “Between Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they all say the same thing,” Rahul Parsha told the newspaper after hearing the mayor speak.
It is indeed a mystery trying to discern just what de Blasio perceives his path to the Democratic presidential nomination might be. He’s clearly aware that the hard left holds sway over the party and will determine the nominee, but besides spouting tapioca progressive talking points de Blasio has offered little so far that would make him stand out in a crowd, if only he could attract one.
De Blasio likes to emphasize income inequality and working-class issues but is still smarting from Amazon pulling out of a deal to open new corporate headquarters in New York. His themes also completely interlap with those of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who launched a spirited challenge against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nod and is back for a second shot at the nomination in 2020. “I think Bernie did an incredible service for this country in his campaign in 2016, and it fundamentally changed the debate,” de Blasio said in Brooklyn on Feb. 19 before his trip to the Midwest. “I think we’re in a new situation here. There’s obviously a different dynamic, and I think everyone should assess the current situation we’re in.”
Just how the dynamic is different while de Blasio is saying the same things Sanders said four years ago is a point not addressed. It is equally unclear how de Blasio is positioned to be the man to seize that alleged new dynamic and ride it all the way to the Oval Office. Even New Yorkers are blasé about his potential candidacy.
A Quinnipiac Poll in January asked Empire State residents which New York politician who might be in the running for the Dem nomination they favored. De Blasio placed last at 5%, two percentage points behind Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who is not even eligible to run due to her age. Tellingly, 44% of those surveyed had a negative view of de Blasio while only 32% thought positively of him.
Donald Trump prominently stood out in a sizable GOP field in 2016 as the non-career politician in the picture. His opponents epitomized the crusty pols who run for president because it is the next step on the ladder. The emerging 2020 Democratic field is similarly littered with professional climbers. No figure has yet come forward who can credibly portray himself or herself as the candidate compelled to run out of motivation higher than mere professional gain. Bill de Blasio’s lost weekend in Iowa did nothing to show the nation that the mayor of the eighth-largest city in the world is flirting with a presidential run for any other reason than his personal ambition.