In something of a land-speed record for political collapses, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the self-styled leader of the #LegalResistance, resigned this evening just a few hours after The New Yorker posted a story on his abusive treatment of four women he was involved with – an ironic ending, for a guy who postured himself as Mr. Feminist, but maybe not such an ironic ending for a guy who bragged about working at an abortion clinic. New York’s Democrats had split on the news – Governor Cuomo and Senator Gillibrand called swiftly for him to step down, Mayor de Blasio refused to comment, Cynthia Nixon ducked the story, and so far as I saw, Senator Schumer was quiet. But Cuomo alone was probably enough to make Schneiderman’s position untenable.
For Democrats, dumping Schneiderman was uncomfortable, as he was a long-time committed progressive with a visible role in Trump investigations, and the New Yorker piece recounted some efforts to dissuade women from coming forward. But in the end, it’s a safe seat, with six months until Schneiderman is up for re-election, so it actually costs Democrats little to throw him under the bus, just as it affirmatively benefited them to be seen cleaning the Senate of Al Franken (whose replacement was a Democratic appointee) just days before the Alabama Senate race, an action that some prominent Democrats publicly repented of once that race was safely won. By contrast, they refused to dump Senator Bob Menendez when credibly accused of corruption, so long as there was a risk that Republican Chris Christie could appoint a successor. For now, they are still not calling to dump a California Congressman accused of sexually assaulting a 16 year old.
I confess that my dim view of Democratic sincerity on this score is colored by having watched for decades their last-ditch defense of people like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy and Gerry Studds and, more recently, how difficult it was to get sexual abusers like Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Portland Mayor Sam Adams out of office (among other sex abusers in the current Democratic Party). That said, it is undoubtedly in the Democratic Party’s best interests to ditch cretins like Schneiderman at the first sign of trouble, the way Republicans used to do routinely (remember when Bob Livingston was forced out as Speaker of the House within a day of an extramarital affair being revealed, or Douglas Ginsburg stepping aside as a Supreme Court nominee just for having smoked pot?). I spent years hearing resentful Republicans complain that we were the stupid party because we didn’t defend our people the way Democrats did, right or wrong. But I’m not convinced, in the long run, that the Democratic approach was cost-free (it may well have cost them the 2000 election), and it certainly is not cost-free for Republicans, who have for years run as the party of sane, solid, middle-class values.
Some Republicans today still believe in such values: for example, Missouri Attorney General and Senate candidate Josh Hawley has loudly called for Governor Eric Greitens to resign, and has looked unflinchingly at Greitens’ misconduct. But the reality is that a lot of people on the GOP side, still carrying grudges from the Clinton era, have decided that wagon-circling in imitation of longstanding Democratic practices is the way to go, and in so doing have eroded the party’s advantage on this point.
I don’t argue that every sin is an unforgivable one, or that every allegation should be believed and acted upon at the first whiff of trouble, before waiting to see if it’s actually substantiated. But Republicans should beware that Democrats have at least learned how to sacrifice expendable officeholders to create the perception that they have turned over a new leaf on sexual abuse and corruption. Some voters, of course, don’t care. But if the GOP doesn’t learn from that, it will pay the price from those who do, and in close elections, that can make a big difference.