This is clever, just as that multistate confederation he formed with other governors in the northeast and mid-Atlantic was clever. Cuomo understands that Trump’s about to wage a PR war demanding that governors reopen on the wholly arbitrary date of May 1 or else they’re guilty of murdering the economy with their bare hands. His PR countermeasure: Strength in numbers. It’s easier to convince New Yorkers that restrictions on business are still needed despite what the president says if you have a group of other governors backing you up, maintaining the same restrictions in their own states.
And it’s easier to convince them to stick with the shutdown strategy if there’s a specific plan to reopen that they can see for themselves. Trump’s “reopen now” un-strategy is stupid but seductive in that it suggests there’s an easy way out of this mess in areas with lower death tolls. Just go back to work. Don’t take reckless risks, but also don’t be afraid to go out to eat. Things’ll be fine. That’s appealing, however unrealistic. If Cuomo and his allies want to counter it, they need benchmarks to show their residents that they’re thinking about how to reopen too, albeit in a way more conducive to their safety. Otherwise they’ll be accused of having no strategy except “lockdown forever,” which is silly but politically potent.
The weird thing is that Cuomo’s the last state official in the country who needs to aggressively prepare for a Trump PR war. His job approval is sky high now. He governs a deep blue state where Trump is unpopular. And NYC is the single biggest coronavirus hot spot on Earth, the last place anyone — Trump included — expects to reopen soon. It’s someone like Gretchen Whitmer, who governs a purple state and has become a political lightning rod, who should be thinking about multistate alliances and independent metrics on reopening to head Trump off, not Cuomo.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has hired high-powered consultants to develop a science-based plan for the safe economic reopening of the region that can thwart expected pressure from President Donald Trump to move more rapidly, state government sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
As part of Cuomo’s effort, McKinsey & Company is producing models on testing, infections and other key data points that will underpin decisions on how and when to reopen the region’s economy, the sources said…
The goal is to “Trump-proof” the plan, said an adviser to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
“We think Trump ultimately will blink on this, but if not, we need to push back, and we are reaching out to top experts and other professionals to come up with a bullet-proof plan,” to open on the state’s terms, said a Cuomo adviser.
Reuters notes that the 10 states that are currently part of multistate recovery coalitions, which include New York and California, account for 38 percent of the U.S. economy. Each of the other 40 states could reopen on May 1 and the national recovery will remain at just two-thirds strength. In fact, Cuomo announced within the past few hours that New York’s lockdown will remain in effect until May 15 at least:
NEW: NY Gov. Cuomo extends state shutdown until May 15. pic.twitter.com/EsOsISyXev
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 16, 2020
I’d guess that he recruited McKinsey partly in order to make that extension more palatable to the public as well. Not that New Yorkers are in a rush to go out and mingle with the city still in the grip of an epidemic, but Cuomo needs to show that the sustained lockdown isn’t arbitrary. McKinsey’s benchmarks will let him do that. Especially if this encouraging trend in New York’s COVID-19 crisis continues and people begin to feel more confident about reemerging:
— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) April 16, 2020
Trump’s not going to end up hassling Cuomo. As I say, even he grasps that New York is in no condition to reopen soon. He’s going to choose a few select governors as foils, starting with Whitmer, and encourage protests against their stay-at-home orders after May 1. Whitmer’s a perfect foil for various reasons. He’s already developed a grudge against her for complaining about the lack of supplies from the federal government. She’s a probable shortlister for Biden’s VP. She governs a state he (barely) won in 2016 and which he’ll need to win again, in which case he’ll be looking for ways to galvanize his fans there before the election. She’s also made herself an easy target with overly aggressive restrictions on movement. Frankly, she may relish being a target of Trump and the MAGA right, knowing how it raises her profile nationally. It’ll be fun to watch that standoff play out next month, with Trump egging on protests in Michigan while quietly ignoring the much more economically burdensome shutdowns in New York and California and the media lavishing praise on Whitmer for refusing to budge as the president tries to bully her into a reckless reopening.
That’s the only reason I can think of for why she hasn’t tried to form a coalition with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and especially Ohio, which is governed by Republican Mike DeWine, on when to reopen. Maybe she doesn’t want to hide in a crowd like Cuomo is doing. Maybe she wants Trump’s attention. Either that or the other governors in her region don’t want to form any coalitions right now. I can understand why DeWine, a member of Trump’s own party in a state he won easily, might not want that headache but I’m not sure why the Democratic governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota would resist.
Here’s Cuomo explaining why “reopen now” won’t cut it.
NY Gov. Cuomo: “Why don’t you open tomorrow? Because we’re afraid the infection rate will go up and everything we’ve been doing is to slow the infection rate.” pic.twitter.com/0NUSpB8a8m
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 16, 2020
Update: And there it is, the new midwest confederacy. And yes, Mike DeWine is onboard.
NEW: Midwest governors Gretchen Whitmer, Mike DeWine, Tony Evers, Tim Walz, JB Pritzker, Eric Holcomb and Andy Beshear just announced they will coordinate to reopen the economy in the Midwest region. pic.twitter.com/ySqj39bGbh
— Kat Stafford (@kat__stafford) April 16, 2020
The two most interesting names are Beshear and Holcomb. Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky, which isn’t a midwestern state even though it borders Ohio. These regional coalitions are starting to become less regional. Meanwhile, Holcomb is the governor of Indiana, a deep red state, and a Republican himself. That makes four Republican governors — including DeWine, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, and Larry Hogan in Maryland — who are gearing up to resist Trump’s demands to reopen on May 1 by partnering with neighboring states on a more appropriate timeline.