Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam clings to power as pressure mounts

February 7, 2019

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam clings to power as pressure mounts Sean Pavone/shutterstock.com

Disgraced Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is hanging onto power by a thread, and as a growing chorus of Democrats calls for his immediate resignation, the former physician may be experiencing his last days as a public servant.

The Democratic Party establishment is in complete disarray after a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced last Friday, depicting two costumed individuals — one in blackface and one in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Regrettable choices

After initially apologizing for “the decision to wear” one of the offensive costumes, however, Northam executed a sudden about-face and denied being in the photo. “When I was confronted with the image, I was appalled that it appeared on my page, but I believed then and I believe now that I am not either of the people in that photograph,” Northam declared from the governor’s mansion on Saturday.

Northam, who apparently went by the questionable nickname “Coonman” in med school, elicited virtual groans of dissent from his constituents by then admitting that he once wore blackface for a dance contest that same year. After this further revelation, Democrats began jumping ship.  

Dems distance themselves

Even as Northam refused to resign, dozens of nationally prominent Democrats and 2020 presidential contenders began demanding his immediate exit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was one of the first to speak out, calling the yearbook photo “racist and contrary to fundamental American values.”


Pelosi’s criticism was followed by remarks from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who didn’t stop at simply calling for Northam’s resignation; she also reprimanded fellow Democrats who remained silent in the aftermath of Northam’s fall from grace.


Hillary Clinton couldn’t help but insert her opinion into the controversy. “This has gone on too long. There is nothing to debate. He must resign,” Clinton tweeted Saturday.

It took Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer a bit longer to find the resolve to ask for Northam’s resignation. “It’s past time. Governor Northam should resign so Virginia can move forward,” the New York Democrat tweeted on Monday.

Problematic line of succession

Even the Washington Post editorial board, whose membership includes an Asian-American woman who has tweeted multiple racist remarks towards white men on social media, has had enough of Northam. “His decade-long record in public office is admirable; it is equally true that his governorship has been irredeemably wrecked by the self-inflicted, racially callous and clueless mess he has made in recent days,” the board wrote on Wednesday.

At this point, the only thing that might save Northam from a legacy of disgrace is the liberal hypocrisy among Virginia Democrats. The next two lawmakers in line to replace Northam are similarly plagued by scandals of their own, and if all three resigned a conservative Republican would assume the Virginia governorship.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the Democrat who would succeed Northam, faces accusations of sexual assault from a college professor. The throng of Democratic voices calling for Northam’s resignation subsided on Wednesday, after Attorney General Mark R. Herring — second in line to replace the governor — admitted that he, too, wore blackface to a college party in the 1980s.

Principle vs. politics

Starting with Northam, if all three Democrats resigned, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox would take over the state’s executive branch, and the GOP-controlled House would select a new attorney general. Such a scenario is likely to make Democrats think twice about pushing for resignation.

It doesn’t require any political risk-taking or moral resilience for Democrats to replace Northam with another leftist lawmaker. “The real test,” observed University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket, would be a scenario where Republicans are gifted with a key political office because of liberal malfeasance. 

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Benjamin Baird

Benjamin Baird is a senior staff writer for the Conservative Institute. He is a veteran infantryman of Iraq and Afghanistan with over 1000 days in combat and holds a degree in Middle Eastern studies from the American Military University. Ben is a regular contributor at the Middle East Forum and has written for dozens of conservative publications, including The Daily Caller, American Spectator, American Thinker, New English Review and Yahoo News.