Riding it out? Northam surrenders to GOP on tax cuts as WaPo reports "stronger position"

Hardest hit? The Washington Post editorial board. Twenty-four hours after the editors insisted that Ralph Northam had destroyed his ability to govern and had to leave, their reporters discovered that Democrats can’t decide who to kick out of office in Virginia:

Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared to be in a stronger position Thursday as the scandals engulfing the state’s other two top officeholders made it less likely he would be forced to step down during the General Assembly session.

Most Democrats in Virginia’s congressional delegation stood by their call for him to resign over a racist photo in a 1984 yearbook and his use of blackface that same year, but some privately acknowledged that the reckoning might have to wait. They took a softer stand toward Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), refraining from calling for his resignation over a blackface incident from his college days.

The delegation could not agree on what to say about Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who denies allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2004.

Part of the “stronger position” comes from having the other two Democrats holding the state’s constitutional offices under a cloud of scandal at the same time. Democrats are trying mightily to draw distinctions between the three, especially between Northam and Herring. The “softer stand” is to claim that it’s not the blackface but the cover-up:

But the group indicated they were withholding final judgment on Herring, widely seen as showing more sincere contrition, while he continued efforts to mend fences with Virginia’s political establishment.

While saying they were “shocked and saddened” to learn of Herring’s past, the U.S. lawmakers described him as having “earnestly reached out to each of us to apologize and express his deep remorse” and said he was holding “in-depth discussions with leaders and others in Virginia.”

Herring, who has expressed intentions to run for governor, is seen by some as more sympathetic in part because he went to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to confess his blackface experience before it became public, and because the episode occurred when he was just 19.

This is sheer nonsense. Both were adults, both were in college at the time, both admit to dressing up as African-American entertainers, and both acted less than honestly about it. Northam’s fumbling is well documented already, but to draw this distinction Democrats have to ignore the fact that Herring demanded Northam’s resignation immediately after the yearbook picture came out on the basis of the blackface incident. He didn’t get around to mentioning his own dalliance with blackface until later.

Either blackface incidents from decades ago are disqualifying or they aren’t. Democrats have to choose at some point. Trying to draw a distinction without a difference is simply an untenable position. Pushing one out will mean pushing both out, or keeping both in place.

Meanwhile, Democratic attempts to force Northam out of office may have resulted in a major policy loss. Northam cut a deal with Republicans to raise the state’s standard deduction on its income taxes, without the extra spending Democrats wanted:

Virginia legislative leaders have reached an agreement, endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam, that would return $976 million to taxpayers during this biennium and could allow the state to begin processing more than a half-million tax returns that already have been filed for this season.

The agreement adopts the plan approved by the Senate last week to give $420 million in refunds next fall to compensate taxpayers for higher state taxes they will pay on 2018 income as an unintended consequence of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed more than a year ago by President Donald Trump. …

The compromise does not include any of the spending that Northam proposed in the budget plan he introduced in December.

Jim Geraghty chalks that up to a big cave on Northam’s part:

Why did Northam agree to the deal? Watching almost every member of his party in the state call for his resignation may have made him less motivated to fight for their priorities – particularly when his former allies take a less-adamant stance regarding scandals involving the lieutenant governor and state attorney general. Northam is reportedly toying with the idea of leaving the Democratic Party and governing as an independent. For Virginia Republicans, Northam may be transforming into the best of both words for them – a governor so damaged, he feels pressure to sign their priorities into law, but who is also simultaneously an albatross to Democrats.

If Northam’s going to stick around anyway, Democrats had better find a way to wrap their arms around him. Send him on a listening tour of African-American neighborhoods and propose a couple of high-profile items off the progressive agenda with Northam’s support. Have him talk up infanticide again! That’s always a winner on the fringe. The sooner Democrats realize they’re stuck with Northam, the sooner they can deal with Fairfax.