Politics, Policy & Media campaigns, elections and communications

Cynthia Nixon & political party disruption

Rajit Hewagama

I should preface my comments on the New York Governor Democrat primary campaign by acknowledging that the latest polling has Cuomo ahead of Nixon.  However, there is a momentum shift toward her.

The Nixon campaign bears the traits that I have previously identified as important in successful insurgent political campaigns. While I’m still working on a cohesive synthesis of these factors, I thought it a useful exercise to go through three of these in the context of the NY Governor’s race.

Environment: Anti-incumbency

The criticisms of Cuomo from the left/progressive wing of the Democrat party are well known. These criticism are (just) not over the nuances of policy. Cuomo’s style of corporate and compromise politics is clearly out of step with the zeitgeist. It’s worth noting he has already shown the intention to shift leftward for this campaign.

Cuomo has already moved to the left. He had, until recently, shrugged off the situation with the Independent Democratic Conference as something he was powerless to manage, despite the fact that it blocked progressives from having more power negotiating this year’s budget. Then, the same day that Nixon taped her comments at The Wendy Williams Show, the governor suddenly announced he had brokered a peace deal. If it could be done “over coffee and cookies,” as the Times reported it had, then, one Cuomo insider seethed, “Why the fuck didn’t you do it before?”

However, given his prowess as a politician, a challenge from within the party has been difficult. However, as the 2014 primary showed, shifting ideological and technological trends meant that the opportunity now exists to defeat brand name incumbents such as Cuomo. Key amongst the technological trends is the ability to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of party politics. As I blogged, this means:

In parties with a primary or voting system to nominate candidates, new media has now provided an opportunity for candidates to bypass their party’s establishment and still effectively campaign for nominations. This means that the disruption to the political mainstream may not follow the antecedent of new parties but as insurgent candidates taking over established ones.


My model of political disruption does factor in that voters don’t pay particular attention to the specifics of policy. It does not, however,  discount the importance of ideology (which will be the topic of a future post). A look at Nixon’s Why I’m Running page, show a strong emphasis on a progressive message if not specific policies.

This crushing inequality isn’t something that just happens.

It’s not an accident. It was a choice.

It was a choice to slash taxes for the super-rich and impose austerity on everybody else. It was a choice to allow the schools attended by children of color to be underfunded and over-policed. It was a choice to sell our government off to corporate interests and wealthy donors, while the rest of us suffer.

These are choices usually made by Republicans. But for the past eight years, they’re all choices that have been made by our governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Personal Branding

This is the obvious personal factor about Cynthia Nixon. While this can be spun in a negative manner, in this case, it grants her high-profile coverage from bastions of the mainstream press, that another insurgent candidate would have lacked.

While the presence of these factors does not guarantee the success of insurgent campaigns, I think it is clear we are seeing the emergence of patterns and criteria that point towards those which are capable of challenging the status quo.

About the author

Rajit Hewagama
Rajit Hewagama

A highly experienced digital strategist, with an extensive background in social media marketing and e-commerce and has served as an online communications strategist for national level political and cause-based

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Rajit Hewagama By Rajit Hewagama
Politics, Policy & Media campaigns, elections and communications