In just one week’s time, Ralph Northam the governor of Virginia, a Democrat, has gone from a full-throated denial of being in a photo showing one person wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe to an admission of the opposite. Some people might call that a lie.
And when you factor in the ugly racist imagery associated with that apparent lie coming from the highest-ranking elected official in a major state, it usually spells a recipe for political disaster. But somehow, this specific political disaster has not ended with resignation, the polar opposite of what typically happens in the immediate aftermath of any scandal where politics and racism collide.
Thus far, Northam has refused to step down, and his close friends are saying he never will, according to a new report.
“He’s not leaving,” Virginia State Sen. Richard Stuart, a Republican, told Politico. “He understands he has to stand up and face this. He knows what he has to do. He’s staying.”
Though there was no polling to reflect it, chances were that Northam’s adamant decision to remain in office like was not greeted warmly by the state’s nearly 20 percent population of Black people, most of whom probably voted for him. It was also likely a slap in the face to the state’s top Black lawmakers, who on Thursday repeated its call for Northam to resign.
And with the now-former Florida Secretary of State Miker Ertel resigning Jan. 24 after the Tallahassee Democrat obtained a picture of him posing in blackface at a Halloween party 14 years ago, there is precedence for a top elected official resigning over blackface.
Northam does, however, have one thing working in his favor: The endless news cycle.
With perhaps the most racist Black History Month in recent memory just one week old, there has been a nonstop flow of news about white people doing wildly racist things, which could give certain folks short memories when trying to keep track of all the ignorance. (For example, it seems like years ago when actor Liam Neeson went on national TV to defend the decades-old urge he had to kill a random “black bastard” out of revenge — he just said that Tuesday.)
Northam could just be waiting for the firestorm to die down and be transferred to whatever the next scandal is — whether it is his Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is facing renewed sexual assault allegations or his Attorney General Mark Herring, who admitted this week to his own blackface past.
“My guess is that it’s a big dose of that, and ‘If I can hold on just another couple days, the way this news cycle works, everyone’s attention will be turned to something else,’” Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary for Bill Clinton, told Politico.