Cuomo’s Resignation and the Limits of Party Loyalty

It’s tempting to invoke Shakespeare in contemplating the surprising decision of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it,” says one character in “Macbeth” about a traitor who repented before being executed. Cuomo admitted that he “truly offended” 11 women, apologized to his victims and relinquished the office he has held for the past decade.

For those choices, we can be grateful. But the real credit here doesn’t go to the governor for accepting reality or his political foes who finally prevailed over him. It goes to members of his own party who declined to excuse or minimize his transgressions. They were a vivid contrast to the Republicans who stuck with former President Donald Trump despite credible accusations of worse offenses — including rape — by some two dozen women.

For Democrats, political allegiance sometimes asks too much. For Republicans in the era of Trump, fidelity to the leader — even when they know he is guilty of horrendous actions — is the only inviolate principle.

Most everyone assumed that Cuomo would take the well-tested option of digging in and hanging tough. It worked for President Bill Clinton after he lied about his affair with a White House intern. It worked for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam after he was accused of being one of two people in a 1984 photo featuring a person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb. The notoriously combative Cuomo seemed an unlikely candidate to surrender.

But let’s have no illusions that he did so for the reason he gave — that he loves New York too much to put the state through the ordeal of impeachment. This ruse allowed Cuomo to pretend that his offenses were the product of “generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate” instead of his predatory proclivities.

The more plausible explanation for his decision is the simpler one: He knew he would be removed from office and saw no point in prolonging his own torment. His logic paralleled that of “Star Wars” bounty hunter Boba Fett, who said, “You can run, but you’ll only die tired.”

His fate was sealed by people in his own party, who enjoy a lopsided dominance in both houses of the state legislature. Had Democratic members chosen to unite behind Cuomo, they could have saved him easily. Instead, they joined together in chucking him overboard.

Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins had called on the governor to quit in March. After Democratic Attorney General Letitia James released the damning results of her investigation of Cuomo last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced, “He can no longer remain in office.”

The state’s U.S. senators pronounced the same verdict. So did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden. In the face of such demands, Cuomo had to know he was politically doomed.

He couldn’t use Trump’s playbook because he didn’t have Trump’s team or Trump’s fans. The sole reason the 45th president survived two impeachment trials and multiple scandals is that Republicans refused to hold him accountable.

They still do. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy embodies the party’s capitulation. In 2016, he was recorded in a private conversation with GOP House leaders saying he thought Trump was on the payroll of Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, he said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”

But he voted against the subsequent impeachment, as did all but 10 of his members. And McCarthy supported the purge of one of the 10, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, from the GOP leadership team. Since Trump departed in disgrace and defeat, however, Republican politicians have engaged in a furious competition to pander to his every whim — and appease his many followers.

The contrast between the two parties is even more striking when you consider that Cuomo approached his job with energy, knowledge, resolve and shrewdness, while Trump was lazy, uninformed and politically inept. For all his multifaceted villainy, Cuomo got things done. Trump rarely did.

Whether the issue was rebuilding infrastructure, repealing “Obamacare” or building the border wall, he was a failure. He was also the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose control of the House, the Senate and the presidency. But he retains his cultlike following.

Democrats have demonstrated the limits of their loyalty. Maybe someday Republicans will find theirs.

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Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.