Bo Dietl doesn’t want to be compared to Donald Trump anymore. “Anyone who compares me, I feel hurt in my heart,” the 66-year-old complained at a City Hall press conference on Monday afternoon. “I’m not another Donald Trump. I’m Bo Dietl, I spilled my blood. I’m a grandfather here in New York, I’m not a billionaire.”
This is an absurd thing to say, of course. Dietl voted for Trump. He was scheduled to hold a fundraiser on Monday night for his mayoral campaign with Anthony Scaramucci, one of Trump’s favorite moneymen. He wholly apes Trump’s shtick: a screaming, sweating know-nothing proudly dissing the political class, the brawler who can tell you (if you’re white) exactly how it is.
Dietl, a former police detective and Fox News personality, is smart enough to know this is a good time to do some brand building. The 2017 New York City mayoral race is a bore. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who never managed to warm the cockles of too many New York hearts, has nevertheless guided the city competently enough to deserve re-election and can say he created a universal prekindergarten program that will soon be extended to three-year-olds. Preet Bharara couldn’t indict him. Crime is low, the economy is fine. He is not David Dinkins.
Into this vacuum steps Dietl, a low-rent Trump on a quest for relevance. You can see the favor he’s done the New York City press corps. They smirk at his antics, flock to his freewheeling events. He’s good copy. A few gems from Monday’s press conference, as he accepted the endorsement from one of three Republicans on the City Council, Eric Ulrich:
“I’m part black.”
“I’ve never used lethal force on any of the prisoners I arrested.”
“Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my dear friends.”
“Not on my knees, pal, alright.”
Context could be provided, but that would kill some of the fun, right?
As Dietl reminded us, he was a Republican until very recently. Then, in a rare feint toward realpolitik, he tried to register as a Democrat. He screwed up Board of Elections paperwork. He blamed de Blasio, who has no say over what the BOE does. He cast about as an Independent and began beseeching Republican Party bosses to let him run in their primary — if three out of five county leaders in New York City consent, he’s in. Then the games really begin.
Can Dietl win a Republican primary in New York City? Sure. Can he convince an overwhelmingly Democratic city to pick a race-baiting ex-cop over de Blasio? Probably not. Take off the clown mask and what you find in Dietl is quite disturbing: a man who boasted in a recent interview about applying the same choke hold (he calls it a “headlock”) that killed Eric Garner on “dozens” of suspects in neighborhoods like East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East Harlem. He’s stalked people on behalf of Roger Ailes. He’s not that interested in paying his taxes. He’s also transphobic, once declaring, “If it ain’t cut off, you don’t go in,” in response to a question about bathroom access for transgender people.
After Trump, there is an argument that long-shot loudmouths can’t be ignored anymore. The press tittered when Trump first slid down that golden escalator, and now he lives in the White House. He found a constituency, stamped out tired Republican regulars, and made the party his party. In the general election, he had the good fortune of facing down one of the least compelling and incompetent Democratic campaigns in decades, eking out remarkably small margins in a few crucial states to win the Electoral College.
Dietl is right, at least, in this regard: He is no Trump. By winning the Republican nomination, Trump automatically secured himself the votes of almost half the electorate. In a city that mostly reviles Trump, Dietl’s Republican nomination is just about meaningless. The angry whites who voted for Rudy Giuliani, the more qualified and articulate Dietl, are dead or living in the suburbs. Bloomberg, a Republican in name only, won with the help of his vast fortune and a post–9/11 climate when stability was prized above all else.
De Blasio deserves a vigorous challenge on the merits of his own progressive policies, some of which haven’t gone far enough. He deserves to be challenged on his blind spots, his intermittent inadequacies, and the ways he has disappointed some of the people who hoped for so much more in 2013. What he doesn’t deserve is someone like Dietl, whining about “Big Bird” de Blasio, wasting everyone else’s time.