With the 2020 election about a year and a half away, and 23 Democratic candidates already in the running, we’re faced with the bleak prospect of nearly 18 more months of nonstop news coverage of the race. What’s in store is a seemingly endless parade of politicians going after the most powerful position in the world while trying to convince the public that they’re down-to-earth humans (cancel me if you must, but I don’t want to listen to Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand talk about the Game of Thrones finale any more than I want to watch Beto O’Rourke get his teeth cleaned). But through this darkness, a preposterously tall beacon of light has emerged: Bill de Blasio.
Witnessing the New York City mayor (né Warren Wilhelm Jr.) debate whether he was going to run, face all the evidence that nobody wanted him to, and then throw his hat (a Red Sox cap) in the ring anyway has been one of the great joys of my year. And not just because, as a tall, uncharismatic half-Italian who also works out at the Park Slope YMCA, I finally feel like I have representation in this race.
It’s perversely thrilling to watch someone who absolutely will not win — the groundhog De Blasio dropped in 2014 has a better chance of beating Trump — still attempt this long shot. In a race that’s so high stakes, it provides the purest form of comic relief — a chance to pause and revel in one man’s complete refusal to read the signs. Three-quarters of his city’s residents don’t want him to run. (Just before he announced, according to NY1 political reporter Grace Rauh, a jogger passing by Gracie Mansion at the time yelled “I can’t believe it. Nobody wants it.” ) His lack of charm is so stark for a politician that it’s almost inspiring. The No. 1 fact that the public knows about him is that he drives 11 miles to the gym every day for no reason. No. 2 is that he killed that groundhog.
“Watching my illustrious neighbor’s presidential campaign is like seeing him work out at the gym in the mornings, just on a grander scale: It’s an absolute waste of resources that he’s doing in lieu of his actual job,” my colleague and fellow YMCA member/de Blasio 2020 enthusiast Ted Hart told me. “It’s so galling that it’s amusing; I hope it never ends.”
I share the sentiment. And part of me wonders if the de Blasio team is in on the joke. Since he announced last week, de Blasio has traveled to Iowa and given us photos of himself seemingly dressed by new personal stylist and hamming it up in a construction hat. He’s tried and failed to get his hashtagged nickname for Donald Trump, #ConDon (seriously?), trending. His name recognition is lagging, even though the Daily Mail may have recently boosted it with the following headline/prose poem: “Bill de Blasio isn’t his real name, he’s a climate fanatic who takes three SUVs to the gym and his wife was a lesbian until they got together: inside the weird world of Trump’s new 6’5” rival.”
But perhaps nothing encapsulates what a beautiful disaster this campaign is than watching him attempt to talk about music on CNN’s New Day a couple of days ago. When asked about his favorite band, he says he loves the Clash. Further pressed, he says his favorite album is London Calling because “they have many good hits on that one.” (Mr. Mayor, sir, when will you break your silence on Sandanista! side five?) He then immediately segues into saying that he’s a fan of reggae until arriving at three words that I’d bet money have never been uttered out loud by a presidential candidate: “I love ska.” At least he’s locked up America’s elusive Mustard Plug contingent.
The pleasure in witnessing gaffe after gaffe of this campaign is akin to schadenfreude I guess: we’re close enough to feel its glee, far enough to not feel visceral discomfort. So how’s he even doing? The latest Quinnipiac poll shows him coming in at a net unfavorability rating of negative 37. I pray it doesn’t dip so low for him to drop out, because I’m salivating at the possibilities that could come from Eat Fried Butter on a Stick at the State Fair season. And in the meantime, I hope this doesn’t make things awkward at the gym.