Andrew Cuomo
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation, Tuesday, August 10, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Last week the Substack pundit Glenn Greenwald, citing a Quinnipiac University poll, highlighted that “only 57 percent of Democrats say [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo should resign.” He used the word “only” to suggest that, by falling short of 100 percent, Democrats were hypocrites.

That tells you more about Greenwald than it does about the Democrats. The fact that a clear majority of rank-and-file Democrats wanted the New York governor gone contrasts strongly with how rank-and-file Republicans reacted to Donald Trump’s twin impeachments. According to Monmouth University polling, a mere eight percent of Republicans supported the 2020 impeachment, and 13 percent supported the 2021 impeachment.

Polls capturing grassroots sentiment have a strong impact on how willingly legislators in the same party as the accused will consider impeachment and removal. In January, only 10 of 211 House Republicans voted to impeach, and only 7 of 50 Senate Republicans voted to convict. But this month, the Associated Press reported that “at least 40” New York Assembly Democrats, out of 106, were prepared to impeach Cuomo—a number sufficient,  when combined with the chamber’s Republicans, to get the job done. NY1 reported that nearly all New York’s Democratic state senators (38 out of 43) had called already for Cuomo’s resignation—a clear indication that conviction was probable.

Over at The Bulwark, Benjamin Parker argues that the reason for this partisan discrepancy is that only one of our major parties is a “cult.” Democrats were quick to oust Sen. Al Franken “for far less serious allegations,” Parker observed. “You could say it was helpful that in both cases the person succeeding the beleaguered official was also going to be a Democrat,” wrote Parker. However, he then continued:

That also raises an interesting question: When the Republican party had an historically unpopular incumbent president and had the opportunity to impeach him and remove him from office not once—but twice!—why didn’t they do it? It’s not as if removing Trump in 2019 would have made Hillary Clinton president—it would have made Mike Pence president, and this was before he had been unpersoned as a traitor.

I would quibble with Parker here. It’s not correct to suggest that Democrats throw their scandalous figures under the bus only when they can easily be replaced by another Democrat. In 2017, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly pressured Representative Ruben Kihuen to resign after he was accused of sexually harassing a campaign staffer, even though Kihuen was a first-term congressman in a swing district who’d just flipped the seat. (Kihuen did not resign but did not run for re-election.)

Also, as I argued here last month, the Republican Party’s loyalty to the immoral Trump goes beyond cultish worship of an individual. More fundamentally, the party no longer cares whether its leaders maintain even a veneer of moral virtue as they wage a dark culture war rooted in rank self-interest. Many Republicans have looked the other away not just for Trump, but for Rep. Matt Gaetz (under investigation for sex trafficking), Rep. Jim Jordan (accused of covering up sex abuse on the Ohio State University wresting team), and Rep. Ronny Jackson (accused of sexual harassment). Moral turpitude, even on matters related to sex, is no longer considered a bar to leading the fight against abortion rights.

Some harsh critics on the left say the Cuomo saga shows how corrupt the Democratic Party really is. Soon after Cuomo’s resignation, Greenwald tweeted, “Few things are more repulsive in liberal discourse right now than the Andrew Cuomo saga. They’re all now lamenting that he’s everything they claimed Trump was: as if they just found out. They always knew it, yet they all supported & championed this dynastic heir *for decades*.” Peter Daou, also on Twitter, said, “The Dem lesson from #Cuomo: BELIEVE WOMEN! …unless they’ve accused Joe Biden.”

That’s not the lesson. The lesson Democrats learned is two-fold. One, after #MeToo, give no quarter to misogynistic behavior. Two, in the aftermath of the controversial Franken episode, treat allegations of sexual misconduct as credible—do not subject accusers to degrading attacks—but still investigate to reach an informed conclusion. Franken defenders still complain that pressure for him to resign was premature, and that the Senate should have conducted an ethics investigation (a sentiment that dogged the presidential campaign of the person who pushed hardest for Franken’s resignation, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.)

In that spirit, during the spring of 2020 many Democrats held their breath about the sexual assault accusation directed at Biden. But they didn’t rush to swap nominees. They waited until media investigations of the allegations were published, and when these cast serious doubt on their plausibility, most Democrats stuck by Biden. In the case of Cuomo, most Democrats waited until the formal investigation by the state Attorney General uncovered extensive, corroborated evidence of sexual harassment before demanding the governor’s resignation.

That doesn’t mean politics never enters the picture for Democrats. New York City mayoral candidate Scott Stringer’s campaign was derailed by a sexual harassment accusation. While his die-hard defenders clung to reporting from The Intercept questioning the accusation, many other progressives jumped ship and rallied around Maya Wiley in (ultimately futile) hope of stopping the more moderate Eric Adams in the Democratic primary. With minimal time to fully investigate the accusation, and with other progressive candidates available, extending blind loyalty to Stringer—without knowing the truth—made little political sense. Progressive Democrats, guided usually by the imperative to expunge the party of misogynists, erred here on the side of caution.

You can’t take the politics entirely out of politics. But overall, Democrats lately have showed significantly greater capacity than Republicans to rid themselves of bad apples. That’s because the average Democratic voter expects the party to fight sexual misconduct with leaders who have not committed sexual misconduct themselves. The average Republican voter, on the other hand, no longer much cares who fights the party’s never-ending culture war. Perhaps that’s because this GOP voter understands at some level that the Republicans are on the losing side.

Bill Scher

Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.