Al Franken 'unresigning' would be political suicide for Democrats

  • Senator Joe Manchin and some other congressional Democrats want Senator Al Franken to reverse his decision to resign.
  • Doing that would undermine the Democrats on women's issues and potentially erase their current advantages in the 2018 midterm polls.
  • Every day that Franken delays fulfilling his promise to resign is already hurting his and his party's credibility.
Sen. Al Franken D-Minn. announces his resignation on the Senate floor amid sexual misconduct allegations on Dec. 7th, 2017.
CNBC
Sen. Al Franken D-Minn. announces his resignation on the Senate floor amid sexual misconduct allegations on Dec. 7th, 2017.

Even as the sexual misconduct wave continues to lay waste to powerful men across the political and media landscapes, some Democrats are rethinking their "zero tolerance" policy.

A growing number of Democrats are now openly urging Senator Al Franken to rescind his resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the winners of the "most clueless people of the year award."

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is the leader of the group calling on Franken to "unresign." Politico is reporting three other Senate Democrats are joining him, including Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy who was among the senators who called on Franken to resign earlier this month.

But this goes beyond political flip flopping and partisan hypocrisy. Encouraging Franken to reverse course could easily incinerate the Democrats' big lead in the current 2018 midterm election polls and destroy their credibility on women's issues. In fact, the stakes are so high that even the idea that Democrats are considering this course of action is incredible.

How bad would it be if Franken reneges on his resignation vow? Let's count the ways.

1. It would completely undermine the zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment and misconduct that his colleagues like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are promoting. That wing of the party got a boost from President Trump's and the GOP leadership's decision to back accused child molester Roy Moore in last week's special election in Alabama.

Moore lost his bid for U.S. Senator, but Democrats will still relish using his name to claim the political high ground in the continued #MeToo backlash. There's also a renewed effort to revisit the sexual misconduct allegations made against then-candidate Donald Trump just before the 2016 election.

"Encouraging Franken to reverse course could easily incinerate the Democrats' big lead in the current 2018 midterm election polls and destroy their credibility on women's issues."

If Franken stays, that strategy loses a great deal of potency. People like Manchin may say they're only demanding different punishments for different levels of alleged misconduct. But it will come off as partisan hypocrisy and circle-the-wagons tactics.

2. All indications point to the fact that this harassment scandal hanging over Capitol Hill is just beginning. Remember, we just found out last month that there are still more than 260 documented cases since 1997 of sexual harassment and misconduct by members of Congress and their staffers. These are just the cases that included $17 million in cash settlements paid for by the taxpayers.

Right now, the names of the accused in those settlements remain sealed. But the chances of those settlements remaining secret are fraying by the day. Members of both parties have recently introduced bills to unseal those deals, and they could be leaked at any time.

Several reports say the tension is rising on Capitol Hill as some expect 30 to 50 members of Congress to be forced out just in the coming months when more misconduct cases are revealed.

If any Democrat thinks he or she can just ride out this wave and the worst is over, they're wrong. Someone like Senator Franken, who already promised to resign, seems like the least likely candidate to weather the storm.

3. Minnesota Governor Mike Dayton has already appointed his current lieutenant governor Tina Smith to replace Franken. Does Franken really want to hang on and literally deny a woman her opportunity to take a promised leadership role?

As they say in politics, that's bad optics on top of bad optics.

All of the above reasons are a perfect recipe for political suicide. Right now, the Democrats have big leads in all the major generic ballot polls for the 2018 midterm elections. Issues like President Trump's unpopularity and dislike for the tax reform bill are putting the wind at the Democrats' backs.

But the sexual harassment backlash story is shaping up to be an even bigger story in 2018 and could easily distract the voters from the Democrats' current advantages.

With that in mind, the question for the Democrats isn't whether they should encourage Franken to stick around but why they aren't pushing him to resign sooner.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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