Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló clung to power Tuesday as his political crisis deepened, massive protests continued unabated and calls for his ouster intensified.
A judge issued search warrants early Tuesday for the cellphones of government officials tied to a myriad of recently leaked and very vulgar online chats between Rosselló and some of the top male leaders of his government. Every day brings more resignations and hints that criminal charges could follow.
Tens of thousands of protesters shut down streets in the Hato Rey section of San Juan on Monday to demand Rosselló's resignation. Smaller but equally adamant rallies are taking place daily, and organizers are considering another massive protest for Saturday.
All they want is Rosselló gone.
"His political base is dwindling to almost nonexistent," Carlos A. Suárez Carrasquillo, a Puerto Rico native who lectures on Latin American at the University of Florida, told USA TODAY. "But if anyone can survive this, it is him."
Rosselló resigned the presidency of his political party and announced he won't run in next year's gubernatorial election. But he refused to resign as governor, saying he is focused on completing the island's recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria and on battling political corruption.
“The people are talking and I have to listen," Rosselló said in a brief statement Tuesday. "These have been moments of total reflection and of making decisions that are executed based on the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico and their best interests."
The controversy began less than two weeks ago with the arrest of Rosselló associates on corruption charges. The next day, the crass text conversations began emerging. One female political foe was described as a "whore."
Popular San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and beloved singer Ricky Martin were targeted. Insensitive comments were made against women, disabled people and even those suffering after Maria.
Rosselló, who has apologized, said Tuesday that he would address only government-related matters "as promised, and as expected by the people."
Rosselló's rule can be divided neatly into the before and the after. In the time before the chats burst into the public domain, the handsome and charming governor appeared to have a Teflon coat.
Rosselló was born 40 years ago in San Juan, the son of Pedro Rosselló and wife Maga Nevares. He graduated MIT with degrees in biomedical engineering and economics before earning a doctorate in the former at the University of Michigan.
Pedro Rosselló was a physician and politician who served as Puerto Rico's seventh governor, from 1993 to 2001. Ricardo virtually grew up in "La Fortaleza" – the governor's mansion – and his political career was nurtured in his father’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
The elder Rosselló, however, was the mastermind for a large-scale infrastructure improvement program that ultimately enveloped the island in debt. That led to a bankruptcy filing and years of court battles and financial struggles.
Ricardo – Ricky – Rosselló ran for governor with little personal government experience and a campaign built around technological solutions to Puerto Rico's many problems. He won a four-year term and took office Jan. 2, 2017.
Suárez says Rosselló remained a popular governor even a couple of weeks ago. He weathered criticism for a "difficult" recovery after Maria and appeared well-positioned to survive the latest round of political corruption, Suárez says.
But the tiny island of 3 million people was stunned, hurt and angered by the callousness of the chats.
"Either he felt untouchable or he felt like they would never get out," Suárez says. "But no one could foresee the mass mobilization of the protests, the effectiveness of the protest leaders in getting people out on the streets."
Calls for his resignation have come from across the nation and island. President Donald Trump, a frequent critic, called him "grossly incompetent." Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, Florida Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez have called for Rosselló to go.
At home, protesters crowd streets, wave flags, bang pans and chant for their governor to walk away.
"He is either tone-deaf or doesn't care that he is now unpopular and unwanted," Suárez says.
If Rosselló refuses to budge, he could face impeachment. And that's another problem – Rosselló's chats criticized legislative leaders who would manage the move to oust him.
Suárez says the House and Senate both appear to have enough votes to oust the governor. But he added that some media in Puerto Rico say Rosselló could have damaging information that could cause some lawmakers to waffle on an impeachment vote.
It might not come to that if more embarrassing chats emerge, or if the members of his government continue to quit.
"Why would you work for him and have your reputation ruined?" Suárez says. "And if he ends up with no Cabinet, he cannot lead."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Puerto Rico: Gov. Ricardo Rosselló may not be 'untouchable'