Submitted by Charles Lipson
He Was Finished As Soon As Other Democrats No Longer Feared Him
The announcement that Andrew Cuomo will resign in two weeks follows the total collapse of his political support among Democrats in New York State and Washington. His advisers told him impeachment was now certain, and he resigned just ahead of the inevitable, as President Nixon did when he was given the same message by his erstwhile congressional supporters.
The headlight of that oncoming train has been visible in Albany for months. The crash became certain when Attorney General Letitia James of New York issued her damning report on Cuomo’s behavior, buttressed by testimony from 11 accusers. After James’s report and press conference, all the top Democrats in the state and country began calling on Cuomo to resign. The major papers, which always support Democrats, did the same. How could any of them do otherwise in an environment where sexual harassment is, quite rightly, a prominent issue commanding bipartisan agreement?
As Cuomo’s defeat became inevitable, his enablers and enforcers began jumping ship or being thrown overboard. Since Cuomo had always ruled by fear, he was finished as soon as other Democrats no longer feared him.
Cuomo’s announcement leaves cable news with hours of airtime to fill. It’s obvious how they will fill it — and how they won’t. They could tell you about the Senate passage of a pork-laden $1.2 trillion bill, and the progressives’ demand, echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that the bill is too small and that she will only move it forward if it is coupled with another tax-and-spend bill that is three times as large.
We all know that won’t be their focus, and we all know why. T-and-A is a much bigger ratings draw than roads-and-bridges. The latest evidence for that eternal truth is that Cuomo was brought down by his grabbing and kissing, not his deadly mistake in sending COVID-positive patients back to nursing homes and then covering up what had happened and what he knew about it. That whole subject was far less interesting to news channels than harassment, and far less damaging to the governor. So, the cable channels will fill hours of air-time with predictable commentary about Cuomo’s fall, his misbehavior in the workplace and the end of a two-generation political dynasty.
What CNN, MSNBC, and their party, the Democrats, won’t discuss is their genuflection last year before Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences. He’s a smart talker, no doubt, and they gobbled it up. Cuomo even won Emmy Awards for his performances, perhaps because Michael Avenatti was indisposed. What these news organizations didn’t do was investigate the medical disaster that was actually happening in New York state nursing homes while they were drooling at Cuomo’s press conferences. CNN went even further. They allowed the governor’s brother, Chris, who has a prime-time show on the network, to act as a political fanboy, turning his program into a nightly advertisement for his brother. Letitia James’s report reveals that Chris later worked as a clandestine political adviser to his brother while still on-air at CNN. At any other network, Chris might want to get his résumé ready. At CNN, who knows?
Here’s something else that should bother all journalists: if 11 people came forward to AG Letitia James to testify about Gov. Cuomo’s harassment, plus at least two more since the report was issued, isn’t it highly likely that journalists in the tight-knit political world of Albany already knew about the problem before it surfaced publicly? Isn’t it likely that they kept silent because the governor was from their favored party and because they feared retaliation if they spoke out? Put differently, when journalists fail to do their job and are already marked down as political partisans, perhaps the two are connected.
Here’s another question we should ponder: would Albany Democrats have pushed Cuomo out of office if his successor would have been a Republican? That was the problem faced by Virginia Democrats after they quickly condemned Gov. Ralph Northam for a blackface photograph, only to find his lieutenant governor, another Democrat, also facing serious #MeToo problems. That meant Northam’s removal could pass the office to a Republican. Upon that unhappy discovery, Democrats began saying that they’d been too hasty in seeking to remove Northam. He was able to wait it out.
Cuomo took Northam’s survival strategy as a model. But the differences were too stark. The evidence against Northam was much weaker and older than the evidence against Cuomo. Equally important, the consequences for his political party would have been much worse. Once Virginia’s black political leaders, all Democrats, decided Northam’s blackface offense was tolerable, under the (current political) circumstances, he could survive. No such luck for Cuomo.
What will the media do now? Look into its failures? No chance. It will repeat what we already know about Cuomo’s fall, cover up their fawning coverage of Gov. Cuomo last year, and begin the ascension to sainthood of New York’s Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will become the state’s first female governor. The cover of Vanity Fair awaits.
Submitted by Charles Lipson. He is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security.