He stressed that Democrats need “a positive vision,” in a way that made him seem mostly unaware of what’s been said on the ground by the other Democratic presidential hopefuls; five others hit events across Iowa the same weekend, all but one on a repeat trip to the state. He talked up his record of progressive governance in New York, including establishing universal prekindergarten, though he spoke mostly about proposals he’s made that haven’t become law, including one that would give everyone in the city health care.
“I’m not in a position to compare [myself] against the rest of the field, because I am not a candidate at this moment. I can only say what I hope for my party,” he said after the event, when asked what he was actually proposing that other candidates haven’t. “We have to have a progressive as our nominee. We have to be able to speak to working people across our whole country. We also have to have a nominee who is believable as a leader in such an important position.”
Every 18 months or so since he won the mayor’s race in 2013, de Blasio has made a flashy play for headlines about national politics, talking like he might just be up to something. His current Fairness PAC is the latest pot of money he’s put together to support his political efforts. In December 2017, the last time he was in Des Moines, he insisted that his appearance as the featured speaker of the Progress Iowa holiday party was absolutely not about running for president, and he wasn’t running for president. He ended a press conference by asking reporters to watch him take out a piece of gum and begin chewing it as he walked out of the room, to show he could be mayor and involved in national politics at the same time. On Sunday, he used the line again, though this time the chewing, or maybe the walking, was actively teasing that he might run.
“Everyone who looks at the facts understands New York is moving in the right direction. But I feel very strongly that there’s a lot we have to fix in our country too, for New Yorkers and for everyone,” he said.
Clinton’s team was annoyed with this kind of behavior four years ago, and still hasn’t forgiven him.
“It was transparently obvious that he was dragging out his endorsement of HRC to make it look as if he was forcing progressive concessions from her to aid his own standing, and it didn’t help him, and his eventual endorsement of her was a nonevent,” an adviser said on Sunday afternoon.
And it’s not like the approach impressed Sanders and his team, who saw de Blasio as playing games around what always seemed obvious to them would eventually be a Clinton endorsement. They aren’t much impressed with how he’s handling things this time, though the senator’s aides declined to comment.
Flying to Iowa for the weekend is a lot easier than putting together an actual campaign, even if this trip did get partially sidelined by a blizzard that temporarily shut down the interstates. But de Blasio wants in on this part, when all it takes is a few plane tickets and hotel rooms to play at presidential speculation—and on seeming like he’s implicitly rebuffing what Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, his clearest ideological allies, have put forward.
“Each candidate has strengths,” he said when asked about those two. “I have a lot of respect for all of those folks, but I’m simply saying our party has to get a couple things right. We have to have a clear progressive message, we have to be unapologetic about it, we have to show people we can produce results for them.” First, he’ll have to see whether he can actually produce a presidential campaign for himself.