I thought the most surreal moment of the Northam fiasco would be the governor of Virginia, a.k.a. “Coonman,” momentarily contemplating whether to moonwalk on Saturday at a press conference he had called to discuss whether he’s wearing blackface in a med-school yearbook photo.
Which, by the way, was part of a defense that involved him admitting that he had worn blackface on one other occasion. Just not that time in the photo.
And I suppose that remains the most surreal moment, by definition since it’s also the most surreal moment in modern American political history. But a close second is the lieutenant governor of Virginia all but accusing Northam, on camera, of smearing him with a bogus sexual-assault charge.
My dudes, this is the greatest show on earth.
Video: Here’s the clip of Justin Fairfax being asked point blank if he thinks @RalphNortham and/or his allies are behind the allegation of sexual assault annnnnd Fairfax seems to think that’s the case pic.twitter.com/XZZtkWrt7C
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) February 4, 2019
WaPo says it first heard from Fairfax’s accuser shortly after he was elected lieutenant governor in late 2017. That doesn’t mean that Team Northam didn’t revive the allegation this weekend, though, to try to convince Virginia Democrats that Fairfax is damaged goods and that they’re walking into a #MeToo nightmare if they insist on pushing Northam out. It seemed unlikely to me at first that Northam’s camp might try to push that to Big League Politics, the same site that published the blackface photo from his yearbook, but I can think of some reasons why they might. Maybe they tried to get a major paper to publish it instead and had no luck, or maybe they were afraid a major paper would detect their fingerprints on the story and reveal that fact, creating even more trouble for Northam.
Or maybe they figured since BLP was in the public eye right now they might as well capitalize by using the site to launder their own dirt on Fairfax.
As for why Fairfax would take the extraordinary step of accusing Northam’s people of leaking, that’s straightforward. It looked like Northam was a goner this weekend but increasingly he seems inclined to try to ride this out. And as he does, Virginia Dems will turn down the volume on him to avoid doing further damage to the party in a futile effort to pressure him to quit. If this kook is determined to stay in office and there’s no way to remove him, Dems are better off accepting that and preserving what little is left of his political capital — which means Fairfax’s path to the top job may suddenly be blocked and stay blocked for the next three years. Accusing Northam of a smear is Fairfax’s way of reviving flagging Democratic outrage at him and, with it, pressure on him to go.
Team Northam naturally insists they’re innocent:
An adviser to Mr. Northam, asked Monday if the embattled governor was behind the alleged assault revelations, denied any responsibility and said the Northam camp did not have the capacity to plot such a move at a moment he is struggling to retain his job.
They didn’t have the “capacity” to get one text screenshotted and forwarded to BLP to take heat off of Northam? C’mon. That doesn’t mean they did it. But it’s not infeasible.
Meanwhile, a majority of Virginia Democrats are hanging with Northam for now.
Lotta caveats to that 50/25 split among Democrats, though. For starters, his overall approval among the public has crashed, flipping almost on its head. His numbers among Democrats constitute a slide of 20 points practically overnight, and some Dems might not have paid much attention to the news this weekend. They’ll turn on him as they catch up to the story. Even if he stood firm at 50/25, that’s actually a garbage rating for a politician’s own party; Trump, for instance, routinely polls 80 percent or better among Republicans. In fact, Nate Silver notes that Trump lost just five points among GOPers after the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced in October 2016, making Northam’s slide among Dems precipitous by comparison.
Maybe that proves Republicans are more indifferent to scandal, or that the “Access Hollywood” tape is less of an outrage than Northam’s yearbook photo. But it may also be simply that voters are more likely to cling to a damaged presidential candidate than they are a damaged governor, especially so late in the national race. No one seriously believes Pence would have won if he had replaced Trump on the ticket a month out from the election. Republican voters had to protect their investment so they stood behind Trump. There’s no similar investment in Virginia, where Democrats will control the governor’s seat even if Northam quits. Which, it increasingly appears, he’s not going to do.