Analysis: Andrew Cuomo’s fall serves as a warning to other governors whose mistakes are compounded by Covid in the spotlight
Before the scandal broke out, Cuomo was often discussed as a potential White House contender as his determined, empathetic speech shaped his image as a man ready to face the crisis and a nation fearful of an invisible, invisible virus To provide security. And he wasn’t the only governor whose responsibility for one of the darkest moments in modern history sparked speculation about the president.
Newsom, DeSantis and Abbott might be well advised to consider their own decisions in the context of their soon-to-be ex-coworker’s exit and use their visibility to advance their own national careers.
All four governors were testing the limits of their political power at this point in the crisis, knowing that the governor’s office could serve as a launch pad for the White House. While Cuomo spruced up its image with its sober daily briefings, Newsom – now facing a recall – took on a proactive leadership role that has enraged some California voters with draconian shutdowns and unpredictable pandemic regulations. He never recovered from the hypocrisy charge after attending an exclusive birthday party at a high-end Napa Valley restaurant, which seemed to epitomize the feeling that he was keeping himself immune to the rules he imposed on everyone else .
DeSantis and Abbott have gone in the opposite direction, undermining public health science in ways that seem to serve no other purpose than to please the GOP base. Now they are facing angry backlash from some parents and school districts for their mask bans in schools. For now, they’ve increased their visibility among pro-Trump Republicans, but their actions on next year’s re-election could have long-term ramifications.
The apparent excesses of this quartet of national notoriety leaders come, ironically, at a time when President Joe Biden offers exactly the opposite style of leadership – and succeeds.
While Biden’s enemies may denounce his politics and ideology and question his acumen, there aren’t many – aside from supporters of ex-President Donald Trump – who would describe him as overbearing or just for his own political gain.
Biden’s public sympathy stems from harrowing personal, family tragedies that are more of a political show. That empathy was evident on Monday when Biden spoke to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson – another Republican who was all too ready to ban mask mandates ahead of the recent surge in Covid-19 cases. Biden offered help from the federal government during this most recent phase of the pandemic.
And his moderate, inclusive, and often incremental leadership brought the most significant victory of his presidency on Tuesday – the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill by the Senate that few Washington wise men believed possible amid today’s political inferno, he happily pointed out.
“This is a moment that lives beyond the headlines, beyond partisan sound bits, beyond the culture of instant outrage, disinformation and conflict as entertainment,” Biden said, describing the forces that tainted and sometimes unleashed the nation’s political system Governors who have sought partisan advantage in the pandemic.
Cuomo, once a figure with an unlimited future, steps back with a self-pitying speech
Last year, Cuomo was one of America’s pre-eminent political figures, commanding a national audience with televised tour-de-force press conferences delivering iron security, compassion and determination that then-President Donald Trump lacked the carefree the terrible new one said pandemic would just “go away”.
Cuomo’s testosterone-fueled leadership was suddenly a win that, in a moment of darkness, turned him into a character a terrified nation could look up to. His masterly feat earned him a book that CNN reported could earn him $ 5 million under the presumptuous title “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
At some point there was even talk of a possible late entry into the 2020 presidential election campaign. At least the fourth term in Albany, which his legendary father, Governor Mario Cuomo had missed, seemed close enough to touch.
But the legend of Andrew Cuomo wasn’t all it seemed. His reputation for Covid-19 leadership has been tarnished by questions about nursing home admissions that may have spread the virus and his administration’s delay in releasing data on Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities. Meanwhile, the seeds of his political destruction simmered as allegedly historical and ongoing sexual harassment – as well as the culture of fear and disrespect he cultivated in the office of governor – his image of compassionate man and master of women.
In a self-pitying speech Tuesday in which he buried the news of his resignation, Cuomo said his only motivation was his love for New York. He has denied ever touching anyone inappropriately. And although he took responsibility for his actions, he allowed his attorney to aggressively question the credibility of his accusers shortly before his own speech.
The hubris and ego that defeated him were on full display when he seemed to feel the most regret for the change in manners that meant that women no longer had to endure unwanted advances from men at work and were believed when they reveal it.
“In my opinion, I haven’t crossed the line with anyone,” said Cuomo. “But I didn’t realize to what extent the line was being redrawn.”
In this way, a leader who until recently appeared to be writing his own political laws at a crucial moment in his burgeoning career was conquered by his own mistakes. He left a lesson to serve as a warning to other governors who believe too much in their own power and think they are writing their own rules.
Abbott and DeSantis risk children’s lives as they battle for influence with the GOP grassroots
Like Cuomo, Abbott and DeSantis were pushed before a national audience by the worst public health emergency in 100 years. But unlike their New York counterpart, they chose to use their crisis leadership to build a heroic narrative for the Trump grassroots voters and right-wing media propagandists they would need to run a presidential campaign race in 2024 or beyond.
The former president built a political brand by crushing Washington’s elites, facts, public health guidelines, and traditional expectations of leadership. And although Abbott and DeSantis have held more conventional gubernatorial roles at different times – the Floridian advocates vaccines louder than many Conservatives, and the Texan sporadic advocate of masking last year – they have stepped up their opposition to mainstream pandemic leadership significantly in recent weeks. Both have tried to ban local school officials from applying mask requirements.
It may not be a coincidence that her uncompromising turn came after South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, another potential GOP presidential candidate, pounded nameless Republican governors who she said were at the forefront of the ideological war over Covid-19 “Courage” was lacking.
DeSantis has made himself a GOP base favorite and is in a strong position if Trump decides not to run next time. But while the Tallahassee strong man is making himself popular with the main voters, he has sparked a backlash from some parents that opened him up to claims that he was buying a political future while putting Florida’s children at risk.
In fact, the showdown kicked off his re-election campaign in 2022 and enabled Democrats to argue to voters across the country that he is an extremist who neglects a governor’s main job: keeping the people of his state safe.
Whether DeSantis has correctly calculated his political strength and his ability to overrun his enemies will be decided by a race next year that could either bolster his national profile or make him another failed leader whose hubris made him at a critical moment led astray.
Abbott could be on safer ground in more reliable Republican Texas. But he’s made a similar calculation to DeSantis, choosing conservative preferences for individualism over the collective good of the community, by opposing federal advice that all children in public schools should wear masks.
While the move puts Abbott on a solid footing with Republican voters, it requires him to place great confidence in his own political ability and skill in a confrontation that has no off-ramp and could alienate a national audience.
Covid surge creates an unreliable political climate for Newsom even in California
In deep blue California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 2 to 1, the notion that Newsom, who was elected with more than 60% of the vote, would be removed seemed highly unlikely just a few months ago.
But Newsom last year tested the patience of many Californians with its restrictive Covid protocols, including many small businesses and restaurant owners who couldn’t hold out when they were forced to drastically cut back on their operations.
His rules, which restrict, for example, religious gatherings indoors, were eventually reprimanded by the US Supreme Court. And a group of grassroots Republicans who initially only wanted to recall him because of ideological differences found a fertile political climate for their efforts when frustration with the pandemic increased last winter.
Their efforts to collect signatures for their product recalls began after Newsom attended an exclusive birthday party that was exposed at The French Laundry – an expensive restaurant in Napa Valley, California – at a time when he was urging Californians to be at home to stay and avoid gatherings. He apologized for the appearance of hypocrisy, but the damage was done.
The California Democrat is now plagued by numerous crises, including the resurgence of Covid-19 as a result of the Delta variant, a wild forest fire season and a historic drought. That has left many voters distracted with greater worries than a September 14 special election. Democrats fear that voter apathy within their party could spell disaster.
“Those who think this thing is not around – I hate exposing you,” Newsom said during an event with Women Against the Recall on Monday. “It is.”