Beyond Andrew Cuomo’s Resignation: American Politics Driven by Extremes

After the words “step aside” actually came out of Andrew Cuomo’s mouth, the overdue resignation of the scandal-plagued New York Governor finally came to a conclusion. Armed with the experience of serving as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet, Andrew Cuomo seemed certain to withstand a barrage of allegations of sexual harassment and match his father, Mario Cuomo’s three terms as governor of New York. However, unlike Clinton – the “comeback kid” who saved his presidency with mind-boggling high approval ratings in the wake of his infamous sex scandals, Cuomo had his ambition pitilessly shattered not only by his own misdemeanor, but by his Democratic colleagues and the time he is living in.

Cuomo’s political talent and moxie were widely acknowledged. Besides being a heavy favorite to win a fourth term as New York Governor in 2022, numerous Democrats nationwide intermittently expressed their support for him to run for president in 2016 and 2020, even though the former shining Democratic star himself never took things that far. As a matter of a fact, it was Cuomo’s outstanding background and high ratings as governor that propped up his relentless refusal to step down for months despite a majority of House Democrats calling on him to resign.

The prospect of his unlikely resignation took a sharp turn when the report documenting multiple women’s testimony about his sexual harassment was released by the New York Attorney General’s office last week. From unions to the state legislature, the governor was virtually alienated by every longtime ally in New York he once had. To make matters worse, the abandonment of Cuomo extended to the national level with Democratic leaders turning against him, including President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. For all intents and purposes, Andrew Cuomo was politically ostracized, marking the end of a political dynasty in New York.

To escape a months-long impeachment that will end in his removal, Cuomo resigned in disgrace. But still, he made a last play to preserve his political legacy by emphasizing his achievements – from enacting gun control laws to legalizing same-sex marriage to raising the minimum wage. Even in his resignation speech, Cuomo did not cease to deny improper conduct – the same thing he has been doing since the day those allegations were first made.

Andrew Cuomo labelled himself as a victim of a “politically motivated” controversy. He was correct, to some extent. With the 2022 midterm election approaching, the Democratic establishment has zero tolerance of the existence of any potential threats, especially after the Republican Party’s kickoff for the election campaign by Donald Trump’s pompous return to the limelight in June. Apparently, Democrats cannot bet on Joe Biden’s declining approval ratings or his deteriorating mental acuity to lead them to win the election next year. In order to make their 2022 election campaign fail-safe, ridding Cuomo is a must.

As a sophisticated political tactician, Cuomo was seeking redemption and preservation of his future standing even amid the worst crisis of his career. “I love New York, and I love you. And everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love.” Those seemingly heartrending words may delude an outsider, but anyone having firsthand experience of the pandemic in New York should know Cuomo has made his bed by mismanaging and politicizing Covid-19 in the first place. When 644 people were infected with 12 deaths in New York in March 2020, Cuomo did nothing. Instead, he was adamant that the largest U.S. city would not be quarantined, rejecting all “shelter in place” suggestions to curb the spread of coronavirus from the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.

Ironically, Cuomo’s soaring popularity that came later was not from the way he handled the pandemic, but from the anti-Trump image he built for himself. Even so, he was awarded an Emmy for his 111 daily briefings, shortly after the third devastating wave of infections washed over New York. It is hard to fathom that the Cuomo Administration, made up of senior staff with decades of experience, failed to give a timely and insightful forecast on coronavirus in the early days. On the contrary, they chose to callously watch the pandemic to develop to an extent where it was beyond control and later, artfully played the role of savior and blamed everything on Donald Trump to win the heart of people in New York – a deep blue state if measured by American political spectrum. Had Trump not been defeated in the 2020 presidential election, Cuomo’s political maneuver might have preserved his career a little longer.

Having failed to meditate on “generational and cultural shifts”, Andrew Cuomo could no longer turn the tide like Bill Clinton did for times have significantly changed. Political correctness in the Me Too era has led the Democratic Party to prioritize identity politics over almost everything else. The concept of diversity has been overused by Democrats so greatly that “equal outcome” has phased in to replace “equal opportunity”. This is surely favorable to Democrats as the trend of being politically correct is widely accepted by the younger generation and increasing immigrants. Democrats who cross the line are destined to be mercilessly discarded by their own party.

However, the cost of moving further left is the schism within the Democratic Party. Despite Joe Biden’s campaign for the 2020 presidential election as a moderate, conciliating between the progressive and the conservative seems to be beyond his ability. Growing fissures among Democrats could be the major road bump for them in the 2022 midterm election, if not 2024 presidential election.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, has shown unprecedented solidarity by centering Donald Trump. Republican leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stand firmly beside the former president by sparing no effort to stifle the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. On top of that, the party’s loyalty to Trump led them to go as far as ousting anyone against their new king, including their No.3 leader Liz Cheney. In that respect, a united GOP does appear to stand a better chance of winning the upcoming midterm election than a fractious and divided Democratic Party led by a senile president who may not even complete his full term.

It is plain to see that Democrats, with their new powerful allies – left-wing media and social media, can handily employ and justify censorship for their own interests. But one thing they may have neglected is that in a world where every corner is digitally infiltrated, all public figures are under the microscope, including Democrats themselves. With ordinary people’s “vigilante spirit” sparked by the Me Too movement, it is not the case that Democrats’ misdemeanor charges get easily tossed aside these days. If the fallen New York governor taught us anything, it is that even the most carefully crafted plan could backfire if we do not play by the rules of the era we live in.

“Our political system today is too often driven by the extremes: rashness has replaced reasonableness, loudness has replaced soundness.” Cuomo’s comments on today’s politics were spot-on, but it did not prevent him from becoming the victim of his own extremes. The Democratic Party will follow the same path if they fail to break free from the hold the extremes have over them, so will GOP.

Jiachen Shi
Jiachen Shi
Jiachen Shi is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Tulane University. He received his M.A. in International Relations from the University of Liverpool and International Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCEi) from the University of Nottingham. His research interests include U.S.-China relations, American politics, political psychology, and political economy.