Will ruthless Cuomo take on Trump for the presidency amid COVID-19 crisis?

His supporters are starting to think he is the man to take on Donald Trump for the presidency later this year, despite not being in the race.

His enemies, and there are many, criticise him as abrasive, brusque and believe he eschews core Democrat principles.

Such is his checkered reputation, that it’s rumoured Andrew Cuomo didn’t throw his name into the current presidential race on the advice of many party members who told him he would never have the support needed.

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And yet he has become the man of the moment, an almost therapeutic voice of calm and reason that has won him the prime-time spotlight with the president himself.

One poll reckons 87% of New Yorkers like the way Cuomo’s handled the coronavirus crisis. The New York Post has dubbed it “Cuomentum”.

Cuomo is part of the establishment. His father Mario was the 52nd Governor of New York, his first wife was the daughter of Bobby Kennedy and his younger brother Chris is an anchor for CNN.

His daily televised news conferences have become appointment-to-view.

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US television networks have carried them in full, almost unheard of for a state governor, and it’s reported the White House changed the time of their daily television briefings to avoid colliding with him on air.

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Cuomo has been articulate, factual and empathetic. He’s taken on Trump when needed to whilst not being afraid to thank him when it’s due.

Asked by a reporter last week if he was shying away from “a tangle” with the president, Cuomo hit back in his Italian-New York drawl: “How long have you known me? Twenty years? Have I ever been afraid of a tangle? No, I just don’t think now is the time to play politics.”

The two go back a long way: they grew up in Queens together, followed their fathers into the family business and now share the stage as America awaits the final act in this tragedy.

There the similarities end.

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2020

Trump warns of ‘a lot of death’ ahead

Cuomo’s detailed assessments and delivery of the latest COVID-19 data, illustrated on screen by graphs, contrasts so markedly with the president’s shoot-from-the-hip optimism.

Unwittingly, he has also exposed the Democrat Party’s likely presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has been confined to his home and restricted to delivering video updates.

Whilst Trump is politically opportunistic (suggesting America could be open again by Easter being one such example), Cuomo is honest, repeatedly telling New Yorkers that the authorities have “been playing catch up since day one”.

He is blunt, careful to limit expectations of when this might all end. And he is often gentle, using his own family stories to humanise the crisis and connect with everyone going through this same experience.

Sky's Alistair Bunkall asks Andrew Cuomo about coronavirus numbers in New York

Coronavirus numbers ‘beyond staggering’, Cuomo tells Sky News

He named a new law designed to protect older people against the virus after his mother, Matilda, and often has his daughters sitting next to him at news conferences.

Reputationally he lacks the oratorical flair of his father but in this crisis the prodigal son has found his voice: “This is a moment that forges character, forges people, changes people.

“Ten years from now you’ll be talking about today to your children or your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost and you’ll remember the faces and you’ll remember the names, and you’ll remember how hard we worked and we still lost loved ones.

“But you will also be proud, proud of what you did, proud that you showed up.”

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Over the weeks he’s been interviewed by his brother live on CNN.

They pair have provided lighter moments, a surreal break from a daily diet of depressing news.

They’ve argued over who is the favourite son, whether he has ever thought of running for president, (“No” was the curt reply) and meatballs on a Sunday growing up together in a large family.

Chris was diagnosed a few days ago with coronavirus.

Appearing from his basement, live during one of the news conferences, he told his brother, New York’s governor, what he’d been experiencing: “You came to me in a dream, you had on a very interesting ballet outfit and you were dancing in the dream and you were waving a wand saying I wish I could wave it away and then you spun around and you danced away.”

Weird, but it kinda works.

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

Sky News is updating figures on the global pandemic daily

Cuomo has an ego. I’ve sat face-to-face with him at one of his daily briefings – he knows he’s centre stage and I sense a part of him is enjoying it.

He is ruthless, some describe him as a bully. But he’s rising to the occasion, demonstrating leadership at a time when America is sorely lacking in it but needs it most.

So president in 2020? No, won’t happen. But 2024? Perhaps…

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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