It’s a scandal that’s become equal parts embarrassing, shameful, absurd, suspicious, and untenable. The top three elected officials in Virginia, all of whom are Democrats, are all suddenly facing very ugly scandals that appear to be legitimate – but are years old – and suddenly came out of nowhere. No one can seem to figure out how this is going to end, but I’m going to make it easy for you, because there are only specific two ways this can end, and one is far more likely than the other
First, let’s be clear: there is literally zero chance this ends with a Republican magically inheriting the Governor’s mansion. How can I be so sure? Simply put, there’s no reason the Democrats have to allow that to happen, so they won’t allow it to happen. A trap door won’t open up under these three Democrats tomorrow morning, whisking them out of office, simply because they have ugly scandals. So let’s talk about how the line of succession is actually going to play out.
Whether you think it’s fair or unfair, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax will be the first to go. The Democrats in the Virginia legislature have called for his resignation, as has the Black Caucus in the Virginia legislature. That’s not surprising, considering he stands accused of multiple felonies, while Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring merely stand accused of being jackasses.
From there, Ralph Northam will attempt to appoint a Democrat with a spotless record as the new Lieutenant Governor. Everyone involved will understand that this person is going to become Governor. The Republican legislature in Virginia will naturally want to fight this appointment. But it’s not going to come down to what the law says about these matters; it’ll come down to the court of public opinion.
If Northam is trying to get his racist self off the stage by appointing his own replacement so he can resign, and the Virginia Republicans try to hold up that process, it’ll then become their scandal. The national media narrative will shift from “what’s the deal with these awful Virginia Democrats” to “why are the Virginia Republicans trying to prevent this mess from being resolved.”
At that point the Virginia Republicans will probably cave, but only if Northam agrees to appoint someone who is not a rising star, and who pledges not to run in the inevitable special election for Governor in November. Then Northam will resign, the new Democrat will become Governor, and Attorney General Herring will likely resign quietly as well. Virginia Democrats will call it a victory, because they’ll get to retain the Governor’s mansion through November. Virginia Republicans will call it a victory because they’ll get a shot at winning the Governor race in November.
The less likely scenario is that The Virginia Republicans dig in and simply refuse to allow Northam to appoint a new Lieutenant Governor. At that point Northam would call for a special election in November, which he won’t run in, thus giving him and the Democrats the relative high ground in this debacle. In such case the national media would likely move on from the story.
There are a lot of moving parts here, but most of those parts are only able to move in one direction. The media feeding frenzy won’t end until someone resigns, but all three of them won’t resign unless the Democrats can retain control for now. So it’ll end up being some variation of the above. You may or may not see this as the fair outcome, or the ideal outcome; it’s merely the inevitable outcome.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report