Just a few quick observations on last night’s major results.
First, Bill DeBlasio is a pretty standard liberal Democrat who ran a very good campaign against a weak opponent in a very Democratic city. It’s hardly surprising that he won. What’s surprising is that New York has not trusted a Democrat to be mayor in twenty years. And Ed Koch was not a standard liberal Democrat; there’s more continuity than not from the Koch years through the Giuliani years to the Bloomberg years, certainly in terms of their respective electoral bases. And, given that history, it’s surprising that he won by such overwhelming margins, winning nearly three-quarters of the vote overall, and basically every meaningful demographic slice of the city (the New York Times has a handy map that lets you look at the actual vote tally in different districts, and you can filter by districts that are in a certain income category, or have a certain racial makeup – it’s fascinating to play around with).
I interpret the overwhelming margin to be a version of a bandwagon effect. The city as a whole decided it was time for a change, and decided to give the agent of change their collective blessing. DeBlasio has a mandate not just from those New Yorkers who never liked Bloomberg and what he stood for, but from many New Yorkers who voted for a third Bloomberg term and still like him. (DeBlasio carried districts that voted for Bloomberg in 2009 by a 14.5% margin.)
Bloomberg, after all, is not leaving office under a cloud of scandal or being widely acknowledged a failure. The city is doing extremely well by most measures, and he’s leaving office reasonably popular. The huge margin for a candidate who ran explicitly as a candidate of change isn’t a repudiation of Bloombergism as such but an all-but-unanimous declaration that Bloombergism has achieved its proper objectives, and now it’s time to try a new tack to accomplish other objectives.
Second, Chris Christie is now officially the only Republican with broad popular appeal. No, that appeal is not deep – most people know absolutely nothing about him, and they may come to hate him once they get to know him. Yes, he won against an extraordinarily weak opponent – but if the Democrats thought they had a solid chance of beating him, they would have put up someone stronger. And yes, some of the juicy targets he’s aimed at in New Jersey are not nearly so juicy at the Federal level. None of that matters right now. Right now, the Electability Caucus in the Republican Party has a reasonable candidate. And his most plausible opponent for that title is surnamed “Bush.”
All that speaks to his political prospects, which I see as very good right now. It doesn’t say anything about the meaning of his political prospects – because I don’t think there is any meaning to them. I don’t think Chris Christie represents a particular wing or faction or disposition within the Republican Party – in the way that, say, Rand Paul or even Marco Rubio does. His agenda as governor has been substantially identical to the agenda of Republican governors across the country – and has born some similarity to the agenda of the Democratic governor across the river, Andrew Cuomo. That fact reflects the particular balance of pressures on statehouses in the post-financial-crisis era more than anything, which has produced austerity to one degree or another all around the country, and Republicans have done as well as they have electorally at the state level because an agenda of austerity pleases rather than angers their electoral base.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if Christie wins the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016, he will do so because he appears electable, but not because he mounts any kind of ideological challenge to the Republican center of gravity – on any substantial issue.
Finally: I know very little about the Virginia gubernatorial race, but I confidently predict that Terry McAuliffe will prove a really unpopular governor. I just can’t imagine any electorate warming to him. It’s a testament to how rapidly Virginia is changing and how unpopular Cuccinelli must have been that he could lose to McAuliffe. But if I were Hillary Clinton, I’d be mildly worried about being dragged down in Virginia in 2016 – where she should still be favored, all else being equal – because of my association with McAuliffe.