New Yorkers, put aside logic for a moment. Put aside conventional political wisdom and traditional notions of success and failure. Put yourself in Bill de Blasio’s shoes. Once you do that, one thing suddenly becomes clear: Our mayor should absolutely run for president. Here’s why.
To begin with, he’s barely here anyway. Given that de Blasio typically arrives at City Hall most days around noon — his morning consumed by riding the exercise bike at the Park Slope Y and then having pastries at a café nearby; leaves around 5; doesn’t work weekends; takes lots of vacations; and jumps at every excuse to leave town, it’s not as if he’s doing much governing now. He may be callow, but he’s not stupid. He knows his presence doesn’t materially affect his administration one way or the other. And deep down, that probably doesn’t feel very good. People run away from their problems all the time.
And where better to run to than the place he loves so much: the campaign trail.
The job of running for office and the job of holding office are two distinct things. Most politicians are good at running. Some are good at governing. All of them think they’re good at both; almost none of them are. Say what you want about him, but Bill de Blasio is excellent at running for office. (Of this I am personally aware: In 2016 I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a Democratic challenger to run against him.) When it comes to campaigning, he knows exactly what he needs to do — and unlike the job of running the city, it's something he’s actually motivated to go out and do. Campaigning makes him happy.
He’ll also be treated much better on the campaign trail than he is at home. The New York City press belittles him all day, every day. Yes, it does that to every mayor, but this has gotten much, much worse than anything Mike Bloomberg or Rudy Giuliani had to deal with. The national press may not see de Blasio as a serious contender for the nomination, but they have no reason not to be nice to him: They have to generate endless amounts of campaign content, with very little actually happening that counts as news. Bill de Blasio will be always available to them, happy to engage on whatever terms they want, and the viewers and readers at home will think that the mayor of New York City is a big deal — at least until they get to know him.
It’s a risk-free move. As Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris have now seen all too well, once you’re considered a serious candidate, the knives come out very fast. That’s the game. But no one bothers to attack the guy polling 19th. No one spends time or money doing opposition research on a candidate unlikely to break 1% in Iowa. It’s a waste of time for the campaigns and the media to go after de Blasio. So there’s only upside in his running.
One of those upsides is the chance to one-up his home-state nemesis. Unless New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo somehow jumps into the race, de Blasio will have achieved something Cuomo could not, merely by announcing his run. Sure, the more de Blasio is traversing Nevada and South Carolina, the more Cuomo will swipe New York City’s wallet back at home. But de Blasio doesn’t care much about the war for preeminence between the city and the state anyway, mainly because the war exists solely in Cuomo’s mind.
Fundraising for a presidential campaign is hard, especially when you can’t just rely on people who do business with the city. But luckily, de Blasio doesn’t need to raise much. Above all else, he is a politician, and politicians run for office because they desperately need attention and validation. Whatever attention he gets on earned and social media is more than enough to achieve the underlying goal. And that kind of attention doesn’t really cost anything.
Can he actually win? Of course not (although, in fairness to him, that’s what everyone said during his 2013 run for mayor). But is winning really the goal? Nope. Running for president means getting attention, escaping New York, being taken seriously by the media, thumbing your nose at Andrew Cuomo, and spending your time doing what you love. And all the while, you still collect your salary back home — and whenever the adventure ends, you go back to your day job. No harm, no foul. Of course he’s running. He’d be stupid not to.
Bradley Tusk is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings. His political consulting firm, Tusk Strategies, has fought the de Blasio administration on several fronts.