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Why Cuomo stepped down and Trump didn't

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been hit by allegations of sexual harassment and other scandals, announced on Tuesday that he would be stepping down this month.

"The best way to help now is to step aside and let the government rule again," Cuomo said at a press conference. "And that's why I'm going to do this."

Up until that point, Cuomo had looked defiant. He had argued that the worst allegations against him were simply false and that he had an old-fashioned habit of touching people without sexual intentions who were misunderstood. What has changed?

Cuomo's U-turn is likely not due to a sudden outburst of conscience, but rather to a decision made out of self-interest. With apparently only two options left – an ugly, month-long impeachment that ended in his impeachment, or a quick resignation – he decided on the latter.

The key here was the impending impeachment process. Cuomo initially appears to have held onto hopes that he might somehow beat back impeachment proceedings in New York lawmakers – and in fact, he had paused for several months since those scandals first emerged earlier this year. But in reality, lawmakers were waiting for a report from the New York Attorney General Letitia James's office on Cuomo's behavior.

This report, released last week, contained detailed allegations from 11 women covering behaviors ranging from unwanted kisses and touches to inappropriate comments. One government official claimed Cuomo felt her chest while others described the governor telling sex jokes about what they looked like or touched.

After the report was released, Democratic leaders said Cuomo had to go. The entire New York Democratic Congress delegation called on him to resign, as did national Democratic leaders like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Long-standing allies in state politics also left him, from trade unions to power brokers in the state legislature. A majority of the MPs in the state parliament supported his removal from office. Voters also turned it down – a Quinnipiac poll found that 70 percent of New York voters wanted Cuomo to quit.

The writing on the wall became clear – he couldn't win. In addition, a conviction in his impeachment proceedings could have prevented him from being banned from office in the future. Now, he hopes, he will avoid this process altogether.

In this still from the video, Governor Andrew Cuomo can be seen announcing his resignation.

New York Governor's Office via AP

The more general point is that scandal-ridden politicians often resign not out of shame or docility, but because they have come to the conclusion that volunteering is the least bad and face-saving option for them personally.

While resisting calls for resignation, Cuomo has often been compared to former President Donald Trump, who did the same. But the main difference is that even in Trump's deepest moments – the storm of sexual harassment and assault allegations against him in October 2016, the scandal surrounding his firing or impeachment of FBI Director James Comey – many Republicans are still with him stood. So Trump rationally and correctly calculated that he could survive these scandals and even impeachment (as he did twice).

Why did Republicans stick with Trump on all of this? One reason for this is that his unique personal attraction to the GOP base scared the elites into ambushing him. Despite Cuomo's successful run in state politics, he had no comparable personality cult among ordinary voters. Many feared crossing Cuomo for many years, but once he was badly wounded – by this and other scandals like handling data on Covid-19 deaths in New York nursing homes – he could be thrown aside.

In addition, the Democrats were simply more eager to show that they took allegations of sexual harassment seriously in the Me-Too era. Well, it's not that every Democrat accused of harassment these days is tossed aside – there is a growing consensus within the party that such allegations need to be confirmed, even if that standard is not yet consistently applied.

But last week's attorney general's report of Cuomo's behavior was for that endorsemental purpose – it was received as authoritative and devastating. The party did not want an accused snoop with a pattern of at best humiliating and at worst lewd comments as its standard bearer. And finally, Cuomo realized this enough that he felt he had no alternative but to quit.

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