The Post-Shame Politics of Andrew Cuomo
And why it might not work this time
Of course, Andrew Cuomo should resign.
Everyone expected that the AG’s report on allegations of sexual harassment would be damaging for the New York governor and one-time media heart-throb. Instead, it was catastrophic - a parade of horribles, backed by compelling and detailed evidence of Cuomo’s pattern and practice of piggery. The report described a toxic, gropey, creepy, and demeaning workplace, and included evidence that he had illegally harassed 11 women.
“All of them experienced harassing conduct from the governor,” [investigator Joon] Kim said Tuesday. “Some suffered through unwanted touching and grabbing of their most intimate body parts. Others suffered through repeated offensive, sexually suggestive, or gender-based comments. A number of them endured both. None of them welcomed it, and all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable and inappropriate. And now we find that it was unlawful sex-based harassment.”
He even harassed a member of his own personal security detail— a woman who carried a gun.
The trooper also described multiple instances in which the governor made unwanted physical contact. In an elevator in Mr. Cuomo’s Manhattan office, she said, he once stood behind her and ran his finger from the top of her neck down her spine to the middle of her back, saying “Hey, you,” she told investigators.
The headlines looked and felt like a political dagger.
By COB Tuesday, the calls for his resignation were not merely bipartisan, they were nearly universal, from President Biden on down. Republicans were quick to pounce, of course, but Cuomo also has precious few Democratic allies either. Even by the standard of our toxic political age, he is uniquely obnoxious and disliked, and he seems to have few, if any, friends left.
But (so far) he is refusing to resign. He’s denying wrong-doing and pushing back against some of the allegations. Instead of contrition, we got a montage of photos of Cuomo kissing and hugging people, and an attack on both the victims and the investigation itself.
"Politics and bias are interwoven throughout every aspect of this situation. One would be naive to think otherwise. And New Yorkers are not naive. I understand these dynamics," [Cuomo] said. "And for those who were using this moment to score political points or seek publicity or personal gain, I say they actually discredit the legitimate actual harassment victims that the law was designed to protect."
We’ve seen this playbook before: Never admit. Never apologize. Never resign. Counter-attack. If you can’t cover-up the crime, discredit the investigation.
This has worked in the past and Cuomo has been paying attention.
As Josh Kraushaar notes, his refusal to resign is not merely a Trumpy thing. Remember Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who faced a blast furnace of criticism after blackface photos surfaced?
Back in February 2019, when everyone else (including me) was considering Northam a dead-man-walking, our colleague Jonathan V. Last gamed out Northam’s options. It turned out to be prescient, and probably reflects Cuomo’s thinking at the moment.
Think about Northam’s incentive structure here. If he were to resign in disgrace, his political career would be over, full-stop….
So if Northam were to leave voluntarily, he’s screwed. The only thing he’d get in return would be the serenity of having done the right thing. For normal people, that might count for a lot. For people who think blackface and the Klan are jokes and that infanticide is okay, maybe not so much.
On the other hand, if Northam looks to recent history, he’ll see a whole bunch of guys who, when faced with sure political death, outlasted the storm.
The obvious example is Bill Clinton, who committed perjury and either inappropriate workplace behavior or sexual assault, depending on how you look at the world. That’s probably worse than Northam’s infraction. A better analogy might be Donald Trump, who got caught on tape merely bragging about sexual assault. Plenty of people wanted him to drop out of the race. He stuck it out and, by his own lights, was right to do so. Trent Lott is an almost perfect analog: He stuck out his own racist problems, won re-election, and then went on to a successful lobbying career.
So Cuomo is also counting on the passage of time and bravado to weather this storm.
Here’s why it might not work this time:
The reaction to the Cuomo Report highlights the political/media asymmetry in our political scandals. Unlike Republicans with Trump, Democrats have turned en masse against Cuomo, who has no JimJordan/MattGaetz/LindseyGraham/RonJohnson/KevinMcCarthy claque to rush to his support. Democrats have decided that he is now a political liability and seem anxious to jettison him before the 2022 election.
Perhaps more important: he has no equivalent of the right-wing echo chamber that will rush to his defense. There will be some inevitable whataboutism about Trump and Matt Gaetz, etc., but there is no talk radio/Fox News ecosystem that will cast him as the victim.
In contrast to the fanboy defenses of Trump on Fox, the tone of MSNBC’s commentary on Cuomo yesterday ranged from disgust to outrage.
Cuomo’s survivability also ultimately hinges on the nature of the allegations against him. Northam’s sin was a decades old photograph; Cuomo’s sins are manifestly more serious and graphic, and there are mechanisms to hold him accountable. If Cuomo refuses to resign, he will likely be impeached by a legislature that seems eager to be done with him.
Even if he does resign, he faces possible criminal investigations and indictments.
So the demands for Cuomo’s self-defenestration quickly became an avalanche yesterday. One key indicator:
Exit take: Hard to see how he survives. Good riddance.
The madness of the teachers unions. Via Jonathan Chait:
The mere possibility that some schools may be forced to haggle once again with their unions to reopen school in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the need to do so is maddening enough. But the cherry on top of this sundae of public dysfunction is the fact that the national teachers unions have refused to support a vaccine mandate for teachers. “Vaccinations must be negotiated between employers and workers, not coerced,” says Weingarten. The National Education Association supports allowing an option for weekly testing for teachers instead of requiring a vaccine. New York’s state United Teachers union likewise opposes a vaccine mandate.
So the Delta variant supposedly presents a medical threat so dire that it could potentially limit schooling for the third year in a row. But it’s not serious enough to justify a vaccine requirement for teachers.
A confederacy of crackpots.
ICYMI: make sure you check out our recent coverage of The GOP antics in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Virginia.
Springtime for moderates?
Our colleague Bill Kristol notes in today’s Bulwark that Shontel Brown’s win is just the latest sign of hope that the left isn’t as dominant a force in Democratic politics as it wishes to be.
So let me draw a conclusion from these data points: The Democratic party is a moderate party. It’s far more moderate than the oh-so-woke left hopes. It’s also far more moderate than oh-so-Trump-justifying Republicans claim to fear.
For those of us who would like America to avoid illiberalism of either the left or right, this is a good thing.
Maybe a very good thing.
Because the Republican party seems as captive to Donald Trump as it’s ever been.
1. The Catastrophic U.S. Exit from Afghanistan
In today’s Bulwark, Eric Edelman describes a humanitarian crisis, refugees fleeing the Taliban, and severe damage to America’s reputation.
Disaster is imminent in Afghanistan. The judgment that the United States should draw down the roughly 3,500 troops still supporting Afghan forces after twenty years of effort, despite the relatively low casualties and the fact that Afghans were bearing the brunt of the combat, was an arguable proposition when Biden made the call. Reasonable people and experts could and did disagree. What is inexcusable is the failure to foresee and plan for the downstream consequences.
Over the past few days, the Taliban has shifted from sweeping through largely rural districts to contesting larger urban areas and important provincial capitals—Herat, Kandahar, and Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban appears to have seized nine of the city’s ten districts with only the government center, reinforced apparently with units from Kabul and U.S. airstrikes, barely holding on.
2. GOP Senators Should Pursue a Budget Deal with Biden
In this morning’s Bulwark, James C. Capretta argues that Republicans should learn the lessons of the infrastructure bill and participate in the essential business of governing.
The coming budget bill will be a harder test for both parties. So long as Democrats are intent on enacting a tax increase unlike any seen in the nation’s history, there will be no GOP participation. But it is not a forgone conclusion that the Democrats can carry through on this plan.
What might be possible is for the centrist members of both parties to recognize that aspects of the nation’s economic life are badly in need of revision, and the best outcome would be a stable, bipartisan plan that includes some objectives both sides consider important.