Ralph Northam Needs to Resign

BRANDON DURAN: On February 1, old photos from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s (D) 1984 medical yearbook surfaced online, leading to a rapid wave of backlash and calls for resignation. During a press conference this Saturday, Northam not only refused to resign, but also insisted that it wasn’t him in the photo.

The photo that resurfaced was an image of two people, one dressed in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam claimed that he was “not the person in that photo that caused this stir.” His press conference statements were a full 180 from his position a day before, where he admitted to wearing a racist costume. Oddly enough, Northam decided to leave out which costume was his.

In a video posted on his official Twitter account, Northam acknowledged that the racist contents of the image “fall far short” of standards for a governor. He added: “that photo, and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents, does not reflect that person I am today.” He goes on to accept responsibility for the image.

The Democratic governor immediately faced widespread condemnation from members across the political spectrum, including from potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominees. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker have all asked him to step down. Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, along with Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, released a joint statement after the Saturday press conference:

“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign.”

Virginia’s first and only elected African-American governor L. Douglas Wilder also called for Northam to step down from office.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, highest-ranking House Republican, posted a tweet where he called for Northam’s resignation, adding that his staying in office “only poisons efforts to grow together as one nation.” He was just one of many Republicans who denounced Northam.

Although Republicans rightfully should condemn Northam’s past racist behavior, they should remember to hold the standard not just to Democrats, but to members of their own party as well. Lest they forget, the head of the Republican Party is President Donald Trump, champion of the birtherism movement. The president has also advocated a Muslim ban and privately voiced his opinion that America needed less immigrants from ‘shithole countries.’ Republicans who decry a lost moral ability to govern should also look within the ranks of their party.

Northam’s bizarre pivot transpired in front of the cameras on Saturday. In his appearance before reporters in the Richmond Executive Mansion, Northam backtracked from his previous statement and told reporters that he was not either of the two people pictured in the photo. He acknowledged some people would “find this difficult to believe,” probably given his concession that it was him just a day before.

Northam’s performance went downhill from there, as he went on to admit that he had once applied black shoe polish to his face to recreate Michael Jackson’s appearance for a dance competition. As CNN reporter Jake Tapper said:

“[Northam’s justification] marks the first time in American political history that a politician attempted to explain his innocence regarding one racist blackface incident by pointing to another one that he recalled participating in.”

A reporter went on to ask Northam to moonwalk, who appeared ready to show off his dancing skills before his wife intervened to stop him. He looked around as if he was looking for space to moonwalk, restraining only after his wife said, “inappropriate circumstances.”

The peculiar sequence of events that have occurred since the image surfaced online leave no doubt: Ralph Northam should resign as Virginia governor. Doing anything but that is nonsense. His hypocritical story line shows that he is trying to salvage what is left of his governorship, but he has lost the trust of many Virginians. There is no excuse for such racist behavior.

Max Magid