There is a tragedy in the Fall of Ruben.
But it has nothing to do with Ruben Kihuen the man, a politician who so many had reposed faith in and who so many must now re-evaluate. His announcement that he will not run for re-election, as inevitable as August triple-digit temperatures in Las Vegas, is unalterably sad for so many young people, especially Hispanics, who believed in the first DREAMer in Congress.
I have no sympathy for the Democratic doyens, including ex-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who saw Kihuen as a political commodity checking a key identity box. They knew who they were recruiting – a lawmaker who made no laws, a pretty face with a pretty story. They knew they were gambling despite the high stakes, but Kihuen was a possible future king on their political chessboard.
Perhaps they forgot that the female piece is the most powerful one on that board. And now that Kihuen’s career has been checkmated, their grandmaster titles are in question.
As to what local and national Democratic leaders knew and when they knew it, my answer is: They knew something, but I doubt they knew the extent of it because they are not stupid enough to elevate someone with so many known ticking time bombs in his past.
The kingmakers are calculating, but hardly dumb. And operatives and puppet masters, like pundits, have feelings, too. I bet some of them genuinely are crushed.
But their pain cannot compare to the likes of Astrid Silva and other DREAMers, who saw Kihuen as a symbol of hope in a Trumpian world where their futures are uncertain. And it wasn’t just DREAMers – Kihuen has been a heroic figure to many younger Hispanics and others, too, people who saw him as the embodiment of the American Dream. Imagine their nightmare now.
I find some of the rationalizations I have heard whispered – he was single, women threw themselves at him, the women never said anything, back then – to be grotesque. I understand denial by those close to him, perhaps. But everyone else needs to open their eyes and see Kihuen for what he is: A playboy-as-predator who has exploited many professional situations with women and caused them to feel he cared only about sleeping with them. He was relentless in his pursuit, not taking “no” for an answer and either not considering or not caring that they were people who were dependent upon him, be it for votes or a salary.
We have published two stories on the site about Kihuen accusers – here and here. Readers should understand that in these and similar stories, we always have a lot more information that we don’t choose to use – either to protect identities or because we can’t corroborate, even if the accounts seem credible. We have been careful and conservative in our approach.
Let me be unequivocal about this, though: There are other stories out there. There are women who have experienced Kihuen’s relentless and juvenile attentions, unwanted and parried, who simply do not want to have their stories told. That is their right, and we will apply no pressure on anyone put in a difficult situation by Kihuen or any other elected official who has misused the power dynamic. The women these men have diminished and demeaned have the right to say when and whether their stories are told.
Which brings me to the question of whether Kihuen’s attempt to stave off resignation will work.
Kihuen, too, is a gambler. Just as he bet that none of these women he harassed would ever come forward – maybe he thought they were thrilled he was coming on to them or believed his superior position would intimidate them – he is rolling the dice that he can survive for a year with the floodgates not opening.
I thought the New York Times’ Alex Burns put it well, describing what Kihuen and fellow harasser Blake Farenthold are doing as a “plea-bargain,” trying to get their parties to allow them to have the lesser punishment of not running to avoid resigning.
(My guess is that in his current state of delusion Kihuen might actually believe that by March, when filing opens, the Ethics Committee will clear him and he can run again. Denial is powerful when one is clinging to one’s job title for dear life. More on that in a moment.)
The thought is ludicrous that Kihuen can possibly be effective – as if he ever has been – when the leaders want him gone and his Democratic colleagues from Nevada have either said he should resign or implied he should.
But understand the politics of this: The Democrats want to have the elections next year at the regular times. To have a special election to replace Kihuen in a district that was lost to the Democrats in an off-year in 2014 jeopardizes the seat. A Cresent Hardy-Steven Horsford rematch in a special election with low turnout could result in a 2014 replay. And even if that is the matchup in November, Horsford, should he run, could still lose.
Horsford was a precocious freshman as a congressman in 2013, tapping into veins of talent only hinted at in his legislative career. But he has had a health issue, and he does not want to lose twice in a row.
I understand why other Democrats might step aside out of respect to give him a second chance, and in a year looking good for Democrats (now, that is), Horsford would be a favorite to reclaim the seat.
But after the Fall of Ruben, some strategists may think a woman would be a better candidate and plenty are interested, most notably state Sens. Pat Spearman and Yvanna Cancela. Throw in a dash of African-American vs. Hispanic politics – identity will matter again in this arena — and this is not an easy needle for the Democrats to thread.
What I don’t understand, though, is the abject denial in the clear moral face of this situation.
What is the real argument for Kihuen not simply resigning? He mentioned in his statement the sanctity of “due process” and how he deserves his day in front of the Ethics Committee. Does he think the women who have come forward so far, and others who have not (yet), will not want to talk to the panel after he arrogantly and dishonestly dismissed the newest set of allegations as false also and falsely implied he had dated one of his accusers, stereotyping her as a woman scorned?
Hell hath no fury like a woman… at the other end of your lies.
The far greater likelihood is that they and others are going to be willing to tell their stories to investigators or at least to confirm published reports. And as I have said, if there are two, there are four; if there are four there are eight; if there are…
How embarrassing for the Democrats if more women come forward and they allowed Kihuen to retain his position, as if that were a reasonable compromise.
Maybe increasing the odds that the seat stays Democratic is outweighed by the moral imperative to pressure Kihuen to resign and not let him continue to be a symbol of exactly the wrong kind to Hispanics, to Democrats, and, well, to… everyone.
If those are the rules of their game, they deserve to lose.