Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been accused of sexual harassment by six women, including some former aides. He’s also been accused of privately giving preferential vaccine treatment to family and friends and of using state resources to reap a personal profit from a book.
Unless charged with a crime — he’s under investigation by the New York attorney general — Cuomo may well win a fourth term next year.
Last year on the verge of the COVID outbreak, several U.S. Senators made stock transactions of companies whose prices were affected by subsequent events. These Senators were in a position to have prior knowledge, though all denied it. They were investigated, and it was dropped.
This year freshman House Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) dumped anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 of Microsoft stock, weeks before the Pentagon announced it was cancelling the company’s $10 billion deal. Fallon is on the Armed Services subcommittee looking into the deal. He denied there was any link.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was an Ohio State assistant wrestling coach. Six wrestlers have charged that he ignored or covered up sexual abuse by the team physician; eight others said the abuse was an open secret within the program and Jordan must have known about it. Jordan denied it, blamed it on leftwing critics and the media. He remains the most powerful right-wing Republican in the House.
This raises the question: Have all the scandals and ethical transgressions during the Trump years inured the body politic to scandal?
“Trump has changed things,” ventures Harold Ickes, who was a top adviser to Bill Clinton and a longtime Democratic strategist. He told me: “We may be becoming more like the French.”
Political scandals have been around since the founding, but their frequency, nature, and survivability seem recently to have changed.
One tack when caught is to acknowledge, apologize and try to move on. That worked for Ronald Reagan when he was caught trading arms for hostages with Iran.
It also worked more recently for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam after some Democrats called for his resignation when pictures emerged of him in blackface in a skit while in in medical school decades earlier. He accepted responsibility, apologized and laid low while privately courting Black leaders. It worked: Northam is serving out his term with good approval ratings.
But stonewalling also has worked.
When reports first broke that Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship with a White House intern, the president denied it. Several Democratic members of Congress told me that, if true, he might be forced out of office. Clinton bought time, his opponents — congressional Republicans and a Republican special counsel — overreached, and while impeached by the House, Clinton’s public approval ratings rose.
The Me-Too movement has ended the careers of a number of sexual predators. But few of them have been in politics — and there have been second thoughts about the fairness of the most prominent one who was — former Sen. Al Franken. The Minnesota Democrat was accused by multiple women of inappropriate behavior, and there was an embarrassing picture. Then-Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded Franken’s resignation. Subsequently, it came out that some of these stories were peddled by Trump dirty trickster Roger Stone; New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer raised questions about some of the charges.
Gov. Cuomo has also employed a version of the stonewall tactic.
When the Coronavirus struck, Cuomo became a hero to Democrats with his forceful, seemingly candid, daily briefings to counter President Trump’s duplicity. There even was talk of drafting Cuomo as the party’s presidential nominee.
It looks a lot different today.
There have been revelations that privately he gave special treatment for COVID testing to his family and political allies, mismanaged the virus in nursing homes and covered it up, and used state employees to help on his self-congratulatory book on his leadership.
Most problematic for the governor may be the women, most of whom worked for him, who’ve accused him of sexual harassment. These are far more specific and serious than the charges that forced Franken to resign.
Cuomo semi-apologized in the sexual misconduct allegations, while dismissing the other ethical issues. In spy jargon this was the “limited hang out.” Some New York state legislators sought impeachment proceedings, and top Democrats, including Sen. Schumer, called on Cuomo to resign. Cuomo instead laid low, while fighting back.
The allegations against him are being investigated by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
If she finds Cuomo violated the law, he’s political dead meat.
If, however, her findings condemn him for acting inappropriately but find his actions fall short of criminality, he may survive.
Cuomo is a take-no-prisoners bully: State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who worked in his administration, told the New York Times she’s never “met a person in New York politics who has a good relationship with Andrew Cuomo.”
But he engenders fear, and few Democrats would be willing to take him on in a vicious primary.
And the wages of scandal simply aren’t what they used to be.
In a state that Joe Biden won by 2 million votes, the leading Republican candidate may be a Trump-loving congressman.
If Andrew Cuomo wins a fourth term a year from November, there is one person who will deserve special thanks: Donald Trump.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.