Why Cuomo Resigned and Trump Not
“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let the government rule again,” Cuomo said at a news conference. “And so that’s what I’ll do.”
Up to this point, Cuomo had seemed defiant. He had argued that the worst accusations against him were simply untrue and that he had an old-fashioned habit of touching people without sexual intent that was being misinterpreted. What changed?
Cuomo’s change of course is probably not due to a sudden burst of consciousness, but to a decision born of self-interest. With only two seemingly options remaining: an ugly months-long impeachment ending in his impeachment, or a swift resignation, he chose the latter.
The key here was that impeachment impeachment. At first, Cuomo seems to have held out hope that he could reject impeachment in the New York state legislature in some way, and in fact had stalled action there for several months since these scandals emerged earlier this year. But in reality, lawmakers were waiting for a report from the New York attorney general’s office, Letitia James, on Cuomo’s conduct.
That report, released last week, details the allegations of 11 women, covering conduct ranging from unwanted kissing and fondling to inappropriate comments. One state employee claimed that Cuomo touched his chest, while others described the governor telling sexual jokes, commenting on how they looked or touching them.
After the report was released, top Democrats said Cuomo had to go. The entire New York Congressional Democratic delegation asked him to resign, as do national Democratic leaders like President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Longtime allies in state politics abandoned him too, unions to power brokers of the state legislature. Most legislators in the state assembly registered supporting his impeachment. Voters rejected it too – a Quinnipiac survey found that 70 percent of New York voters wanted Cuomo to resign.
The writing on the wall became clear: he couldn’t win. Furthermore, a conviction at his impeachment may have barred him from holding state office in the future. So now, wait, it will avoid that test entirely.
The broader point is that politicians plagued by scandals often do not resign out of embarrassment or meekness, but because they have come to the conclusion that leaving office voluntarily is the least bad option and the most saving face for them personally.
As Cuomo defied calls for his resignation, he was frequently compared to former President Donald Trump, who did the same. But the key difference is that, even at Trump’s lowest moments, the blizzard allegations of sexual harassment and assault Against him in October 2016, the scandal over the firing of FBI Director James Comey, or any of his impeachments – many Republicans still supported him. So Trump calculated, rationally and correctly, that he could survive those scandals, and even impeachment (as he did twice).
Why did the Republicans stick with Trump through all of this? Part of the reason is that his unique personalized appeal to the Republican base made elites fear to upset him. Despite Cuomo’s successful career in state politics, he did not have a comparable cult of personality among ordinary voters. Many feared crossing Cuomo for many years, but was once seriously injured, by this and other scandalsThus, due to the handling of data on deaths from Covid-19 in nursing homes in New York, it could be neglected.
Beyond that, Democrats simply had more desire to show that they take allegations of sexual harassment seriously in the Me Too era. Now, it is not the case that all the Democrats accused of harassment these days are sidelined; there is a growing consensus in the party that such accusations must be substantiated, even if that standard not applied evenly yet.
But last week’s report on Cuomo’s conduct from the state attorney general’s office served that corroborating purpose: It was received as authoritative and damning. The party did not want as its standard bearer an imbecile accused with a pattern of comments, at best degrading and, at worst, lewd. And eventually that became clear enough to Cuomo that he felt he had no choice but to quit.