Democrats Are Urging a Show of Weakness
As Governor Ralph Northam continues to dance around the details of a 1984 yearbook photo, calls for his resignation are growing louder. Potential and declared 2020 Democratic candidates, along with dozens of other high ranking party members, and even some Republicans, are urging him to step down.
At first glance, it's easy to see why Northam should step down. He's now been exposed to the world as a man whose morals are deeply lacking, who blatantly carried himself as a racist in a poor attempt at humor, and who, upon being found out, is trying to play it off. His party meanwhile, is trying to shape a message of national progress, which means zero tolerance regarding past acts transgression. While the initial fallout is sure to subside within a week (see: SOTU), he's unlikely to retain the political capital needed to achieve his agenda.
“You can’t be an effective leader if you’ve lost the people." Symone Sanders of Priorities USA told the Washington Post. "In 2019, folks cannot afford to waver when it comes to condemning xenophobia, racism, sexism, on down the line.” That's all well and good, and in a perfect world Ms. Sanders would be dead right. But in the era of Donald Trump, she's a world away from political reality, and condemnation is really nothing more than hollow words.
After all President Trump has, on paper, lost the support of the people. Polls have consistently held his approval rating underwater, below 45% as of this article. He's been condemned time and time and time again from members of both parties, from former presidents, former senators, from foreign leaders, and even from the pope. His overarching nationalism continues to divide the nation, while his gross incompetency continues to threaten it. Yet, despite all this, he's pressed forward.
By pressuring Northam, Democrats are communicating their continued engagement in the identity politics and political correctness that allowed the Trump campaign to win the rust belt in 2016, and pick up Senate seats in 2018. Americans as a whole remain overwhelming critical of what they view as an attempt to police what conversations can and can't be had.
What's worse, it shows Democrats are still buying into the false nobility that you must maintain gentry at all times. "When they go low, we go high!" former first lady Michelle Obama reiterated last fall. The notion makes sense. The nation is tired of divisive politics right? So, as the party of the people, Democrats should focus on the kitchen table issues and refrain from name calling. The problem? It doesn't really work. Flamboyant candidates win, but it's hard to be so when you're constantly playing by an imaginary set of rules.
Call Northam a racist, fine. He is one. But hold off on the "our party is better than this" mentality. Voters don't really care all that much that, as a party, you helped depose some governor they've never heard of. They want to hear your ambitious plans on healthcare, immigration, and climate change. They're motivated by candidates that are brazen and determined. They're turned off by candidates who appear to be constantly apologizing.
Look at the GOP. Think back to the last time you heard Trump say "I'm sorry." How about the last time Mitch McConnell called for the presidents resignation? These things don't happen because, for better or worse, Republicans have learned how to play the game. They stick to their words, and turn criticism back around. In response, their base rallies around them, and they win elections.
The majority of Democrats understandably sour at this brand of politics. But it seems some on the left are finally learning how to use the GOP playbook against them. If Northam is routed, it shows Democrats, for the most part, are still saying sorry.
It's important to remember as well that questions remain as to the motivations of the individual(s) who released the photo publicly. The situation appears to have been sparked by conservatives upset over the governors recent efforts on abortion. Northam's exit would show very plainly that blackmail works. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who's also pro-choice, is now facing his own public image problem.
Looking at 2020, Democrats must ostracize Northam, leave him where he is, and prepare a replacement next cycle. Removing him will accomplish nothing in the long term, and will show that weakness still persists in the Democratic party.