Once Rising Stars, Cuomo And Newsom Sink By Their Own Failings

Left: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, right: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California are embroiled in distinct political woes for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, two Democratic governors on opposite ends of the country were hailed as heroes for their leadership in a crisis. Now they’re leaders on the ropes.

Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California are embroiled in distinct political woes. For Cuomo, it’s a federal investigation into whether his administration sought to hide the true toll of the pandemic. For Newsom, it’s fending off a recall effort fueled by opposition to his lockdowns — and his own personal missteps.

But for both men the bottom line is clear: If you’re not careful, the same crisis that can raise your stock can just as easily bring you down.

“We’ve had too many mission accomplished moments,” said Rebecca Katz, a New York City-based Democratic strategist who ran a primary challenge against Cuomo in 2018, in a reference to former President George W. Bush’s premature boast days after the conquest of Iraq.

The COVID-19 virus has been an especially painful illustration of that point. The virus is now stretching into its second year, a timeline few could have comprehended when schools and workplaces were first shuttered last March and governors who control lockdowns played newly prominent roles in Americans’ lives.

Cuomo and Newsom both seized the moment in their own ways. Cuomo went on television for daily briefings that were paternal, almost philosophical, and also sharply critical of the Trump administration. They became must-see TV across the country, aided in part by his CNN news host brother. Newsom, meanwhile, instituted early lockdowns, and for a time his state avoided the worst of the virus. He was a smoother, reassuring presence. He studiously avoided partisanship, even landing himself in an ad for President Donald Trump.

But ultimately it was their actions, not their tone or words, that brought them down to earth.

“This is all a bunch of tough stuff,” said California strategist Rob Stutzman, noting that governors are judged on outcomes and the outcomes in this crisis have been bad everywhere. “At the end of the day, these different approaches the governors have taken have made very little difference because, well, it’s a virus.”

Several governors have managed to avoid major political backlash, like Republican Charlie Baker in Massachusetts or Democrat Jared Polis in Colorado. But the travails of Cuomo and Newsom show how big states are exceptionally tricky to run and always under the microscope — something also demonstrated this week in Texas, as the nation’s second-largest state suffered extended power outages during a deep freeze that sparked criticism of its Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

“New York and California are under a magnifying glass,” said Jared Leopold, former spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Everything good that happens there looks five times better and everything bad looks five times worse.”

While the coronavirus may have first landed on U.S. soil on the West Coast, it exploded into public consciousness in March as New York City was wracked by a hideous outbreak. As the epidemic spiraled, Cuomo on March 25 issued a directive barring nursing homes from refusing patients based solely on a COVID-19 diagnosis. Cuomo defended the directive as an effort to prevent catastrophic hospital overcrowding and discrimination against virus patients.

Despite his state’s death toll — more than 46,000 people in New York state have died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University — Cuomo’s popularity soared, and some Democrats in the spring and summer favorably contrasted his response with Trump’s bravado and false optimism, wondering if Cuomo could replace Joe Biden on their ticket or sign on as a vice presidential candidate. In October, Cuomo took an early victory lap, releasing a book titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

But the nursing home issue exploded onto the political scene with two recent revelations. First, the state’s Democratic attorney general chastised the Cuomo administration for minimizing the death toll at nursing homes by excluding certain fatalities from the count. Cuomo’s administration then revealed at least 15,000 people living in long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19, nearly double the number Cuomo had initially disclosed.

The New York Post reported that a member of Cuomo’s administration told lawmakers it had withheld the numbers for fear of them being “used against us.” A furious Cuomo at a press conference accused Ron Kim, a Democratic state legislator who spoke to the Post, of corruption.

Kim said Cuomo had called him and threatened to “destroy” him.

“The nursing homes story really exposed quite a bit about questions about his leadership style and the success of his leadership during COVID,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “The governor wrote a book touting his accomplishments, and we don’t know if we’re halfway out of the pandemic.”

The meltdown in California has been more gradual. A month after Cuomo released his coronavirus book, an embarrassed Newsom was apologizing for attending a lobbyist’s birthday party at the posh French Laundry restaurant, even as he was telling Californians to avoid gatherings.

The restaurant scandal came as California’s image as a model of COVID response began to fade. Rising cases and shrinking capacity at hospitals prompted Newsom to reinstate stay-at-home orders between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Republicans had circulated recall petitions against Newsom months before, complaining about his handling of homelessness and the economy, but they shifted to include his COVID-19 response in their complaints and began racking up signatures.

In January, Newsom abruptly lifted the stay-at-home orders, sparking accusations he was abandoning science. He was then forced to retool the state’s vaccine distribution system. Now the state’s coronavirus numbers are dropping. His job approval rating has also.

Stutzman said Newsom is suffering for failing to provide the smooth, efficient government he promised when elected. But part of his fall, and Cuomo’s, was inevitable because they are no longer being compared to Trump and his often hands-off approach to the virus response.

“Any of these Democratic governors are going to come off these initial highs they got that were better than Republican governors,” Stutzman, a Republican, argued. “Democrats across the country got a false boost out of this because of Trump, but when it all nets out it looks the same.”

The governors’ troubles stand as a warning for Biden, a Democrat who has declared he now owns the pandemic response and will be judged by how he delivers.

“At least the Biden administration got to see how everyone else did first,” Katz said.

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6 Capitol Police Officers Suspended, Another 29 Investigated For Alleged Roles In Jan. 6 Riot

Shaynna Ford stands in front of police as a truck caught on fire during protests on 16th and I streets on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. What started out as a peaceful display ended in care fires and several arrest as thousands swarm the capitol in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this week.

The acting police chief vows “appropriate discipline” for behavior not in keeping with the department’s rules of conduct.

Six Capitol Police officers have been suspended with pay and 29 others are under investigation for their alleged roles in the riot last month, CNN and Fox News reported Thursday.

“Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman has directed that any member of her department whose behavior is not in keeping with the Department’s Rules of Conduct will face appropriate discipline,” a department spokesperson stated.

Images of apparently friendly and encouraging officers were posted on social media during and shortly after the Jan. 6 riot. Five people lost their lives in the attack, including fellow Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. Two other officers later died by suicide.

According to Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), one of the suspended officers took a selfie with a person who was part of the mob that overtook the Capitol. Another wore a “Make America Great Again” hat and appeared to direct rioters around the building.

Two accused rioters informed the FBI that a Capitol police officer told them: “It’s your house now” after they busted into the Capitol.

Trump Ramps Up Efforts To Retain Control Of The Republican Party By Attacking McConnell

After leaving in disgrace following his impeachment for inciting a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, the former president wants to consolidate his hold on the GOP.

After lying low for nearly a month after leaving office, Donald Trump is ramping up a return to relevancy that will involve renewed fundraising and continuing attacks on a new nemesis: the highest-ranking Republican in Washington, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell.

Trump has not been collecting money for his Save America leadership committee since Jan. 6, the day a mob he incited attacked the U.S. Capitol, but a website that will permit him to tap into his lucrative small-donor list will be up and running within days, said a Republican familiar with his plans.

And while the Republican Party focuses on winning back one or both chambers of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, Trump is fixated on pressuring Senate Republicans to replace McConnell, who, after engineering Trump’s second impeachment acquittal in a year, excoriated him in a Senate floor speech immediately afterward and then in a Wall Street Journal column.

“Because it’s smart,” the Republican source said on condition of anonymity. “It shows that Trump is still the leader of the new party and is pushing out the leaders of the old party.”

Recent polls show that Trump is deeply unpopular with Americans as a whole but still has the approval of most Republicans. One survey showed him the hands-down favorite, about 40 percentage points above the next name, for the 2024 Republican nomination, which Trump has said he is considering seeking.

Former President Donald Trump reacts as he is driven past supporters on Presidents Day in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Former President Donald Trump reacts as he is driven past supporters on Presidents Day in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Longtime Republican consultants, though, said Trump’s attacks on McConnell and others who criticized him for inciting the Jan. 6 attack may help Trump but would be a nightmare for the party.

“His congenital need for attention and affirmation is going to do lasting damage to the GOP,” said David Kochel, who most recently helped Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst win a comfortable reelection.

“Trump has always been a brilliant tactician and a terrible strategist,” said Terry Sullivan, who ran Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 bid for the GOP nomination. “He has no master plan on what he wants to do, only that he wants to react to McConnell.”

Republicans hoping to retain the favor of Trump’s hard-core followers have started making pilgrimages to the for-profit Palm Beach social club where he lives. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have both visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago in recent days, while Trump’s United Nations ambassador and potential 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley reportedly tried to arrange a meeting but was rejected.

Trump is the first one-term president to lose an election in modern times to nevertheless try to remain a force in national politics. He was able to raise nearly $80 million for Save America in the weeks between the Nov. 3 election he lost and Jan. 6 by claiming, in hundreds of fundraising texts and emails, that the money would let him pursue challenges to the election results and help Republicans hold two Georgia Senate seats. In the end, though, he spent none of that money for either purpose and has it available for virtually anything he wants ― from picking up personal expenses to paying himself an eight-figure salary ― thanks to the permissive rules regulating such “leadership” committees.

Trump retains access to an email and cellphone number list totaling over 40 million names, including several million actual donors, that was jointly built by his campaign and the Republican National Committee. Some GOP consultants believe that a significant fraction of his campaign donors could be persuaded to give him $5 a month, allowing him to take in tens of millions of dollars each year.

Two coming events, though, could test Trump’s hold on the party.

Former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, where he's been living since leaving the White House, has seen visitors fr
Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he’s been living since leaving the White House, has seen visitors from among the House GOP leadership.

Next week, the American Conservative Union, which for decades hosted its Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, is holding it instead in Orlando, just two hours by car up the Florida Turnpike from Trump’s new home. Some half dozen potential GOP 2024 presidential hopefuls are slated to attend, including Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis, both of Florida. It is unclear whether Trump, who headlined the event each of his four years in office, will make an appearance.

And six weeks later, the RNC is scheduled to host a conference for its major donors in Palm Beach, an annual event that in recent years has funneled many hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago to host luncheons and dinners there.

The RNC did not respond to HuffPost’s queries about whether that would happen again. The meeting itself is likely to take place, as it has in previous years, at the Four Seasons hotel, four miles up the road, because Trump’s club has only 10 guest suites.

One RNC member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would be a mistake for the party to patronize Trump’s property right now.

“That would be a bad idea. The party can’t be controlled by any one candidate,” the member said, calling it a “recipe for losing.”

Trump left the White House exactly two weeks after his failed, last-gasp attempt to encourage a mob of his violent supporters to intimidate his own vice president and Congress into discarding the election results and installing him as ruler. The ensuing impeachment won the support of 10 House Republicans and seven GOP senators, but Trump nevertheless has continued lying that the election had been “stolen” from him, the underlying falsehood that drove his supporters into rioting. He repeated it again Wednesday in the first batch of interviews he has given since his presidency ended.

On Thursday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) ― who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment both this time as well as in early 2020, for his attempted extortion of Ukraine’s leader into smearing presidential rival Joe Biden ― entered into the Congressional Record a statement explicitly describing Trump’s actions as a move toward authoritarianism.

“There is a thin line that separates our democratic republic from an autocracy: It is a free and fair election and the peaceful transfer of power that follows it. President Trump attempted to breach that line, again,” Romney wrote. “What he attempted is what was most feared by the Founders. It is the reason they invested Congress with the power to impeach.”

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