[Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]
Way back in February, it seemed like a gift from the political gods to the Virginia GOP. Not one, not two, but all three statewide officeholders (each a Democrat) faced a separate scandal.
Fast-forward to the dénouement of the 2019 election cycle, and it seems like the problems of Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and (to a much lesser extent) Attorney General Mark Herring didn’t play much of a part in the election just concluded.
There are a couple of obvious reasons:
• Northam, Fairfax and Herring weren’t on the ballot.
• The attention span of the public these days is microscopically small and seldom focused on nuance.
• The media, after a blast of hyperventilating coverage that was embarrassing in its overkill, quickly lost interest. (Democracy dies in darkness, indeed.)
Northam and Fairfax remain wounded – neither is going anywhere up the political food chain now, or perhaps ever – but they’re still in office, and dreams of Virginia Republicans of using their travails to make gains in the legislature seemed to lose oomph as the months rolled on.
Northam, whose initial response to allegations of racist behavior in the 1980s served as a textbook example of how not to handle a political scandal, hid out until the coast was clear, then emerged without fessing up but with a promise to be a better person. Banking on the public to forgive and forget what, at its core, wasn’t the biggest scandal out there proved to be a smart move from a politician whose response at the start seemed ineptly flat-footed.
Fairfax, facing allegations of sexual impropriety from back in his past, took the opposite tack. He got aggressive, vociferously denying the accusations and painting himself as the victim of a political hit job from another wing of the Democratic Party. (That last part actually rings true.)
Fairfax stared down those seeking his ouster from within his own party; they rather quickly backed off, even though they were twisted into the hypocritical, if expedient, double-standard of voicing unquestioning support of women who accuse Republican lawmakers of impropriety while not applying the same standard to a Democrat.
Yes, Virginia Democrats came away looking bad. But the scandals now appear to be in the rear-view mirror.