A lot of hay is being made over recent poll numbers showing Gov. Cuomo’s approval rating coming down from the demigod levels he had previously enjoyed. Up to now, Cuomo has been essentially untouchable.
He has been widely liked across the political and ideological spectrum. In December of last year — just before Newtown brought the gun debate to the forefront — his approval rating according to Quinnipiac was 74 percent, compared with 13 percent disapproval.
But that number now stands at a “meager” 55 percent, with 27 percent disapproval. More importantly, it’s not a good trajectory to be on.
What’s the driver behind all of this? Unfortunately for the governor, it appears one of his core constituencies has now abandoned him: Republicans. For the first time, Quinnipiac has shown that the GOP temperature on Cuomo is now at a net negative — 38 percent of Republicans favor his job as governor, with 49 percent opposed.
You don’t need to look too far back to remember when Gov. Cuomo’s support from the right was at its highest — it was a staggering 69 percent back in July 2012! He had capped taxes, forced a balanced budget, was going after public sector unions and hydrofracking was definitely in the cards. He did it through fast-tracked, dead-of-night, three-men-in-a-room agreements between himself, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Walking the tightrope
Still, process notwithstanding, it had resulted in compromises that were satisfactory to the right and simply tolerable to the left. It was an amazing tightrope walk — and one that was simply stunning in an era of coast-to-coast partisanship.
But that was then. Ironically, it’s this hastiness — which once proved so effective — that is now proving to be the first big threat to the governor’s heretofore solid support from both sides. What’s funny, though, is this: The culture of hastiness wasn’t a problem until Cuomo used it to shuttle the gun-control bill through. And now Republicans are peeved.
It turns out that rushing things without a serious public debate is kind of frustrating when it results in your party getting the shaft!
This isn’t to say that gun-control laws aren’t good ideas. After all, most New Yorkers approve of the push. And a push is better than no push at all.
Nor is it to overestimate the post-tragedy window of opportunity that allows a serious discussion on gun violence — indeed, the thousands of deaths from gun violence without a single major federal bill are a testament to our pathetic societal inaction.
The trouble with haste
But presumably that window of opportunity was open for longer than 21 hours — the amount of time the SAFE Act had for public scrutiny before coming to a vote. Unsurprisingly, many parts of the law are clunky because no one got a good look at it. (Really!) If nothing else, the mere fact that it was rushed provides ammunition in itself for anti–gun-control crusaders to use as a rallying cry.
Most damningly, the process and its fruits undercut the progressive idea that government is responsible and deliberative — a great development for the anti-government right that depends on mistrust of said government for electoral gains. Such political behavior only serves to confirm the fundamental conservative view that government is inherently out of touch — or worse.
So now, Gov. Cuomo appears to have lost the Republican support he once enjoyed. No, he’s not pressed for other constituencies for re-election in 2014, which he’ll win handily.
But one recalls a former Alaska governor whose approval rating was similarly sky-high before a series of missteps (combined with overconfidence) ended in her bizarre resignation less than a year later. I bring up the comparison not to liken the governor’s job performance or political chops to those of Sarah Palin, but to show how dramatically public opinion can change.
For Cuomo, this won’t result in a career shift to reality television. But if the erosion in his support continues, it may start to affect his ability (and thus reputation) for cutting through the dysfunction in Albany. That’s because the main thing his GOP constituency had brought to the table was leverage. By being as popular as (or more popular than) Republican legislators among their own voters, it was hard for said legislators to say “no” to what he wanted.
But if the right is now done with him, Cuomo may have to go to Plan B: Act like a Democrat. And maybe on issues beyond gun control. If not for re-election, then he’ll need a political base of support for future legislative endeavors — and certainly for any ambitions he may harbor beyond 2014.
Steve Keller lives in Averill Park and is a refular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.