Ralph Northam's Failure of Character

Democrat Ralph Northam has a new title: spineless hypocrite.

Last week, the Latino Victory Fund launched an ad depicting a white man barreling down Virginia streets in a truck bearing a confederate flag and an Ed Gillespie bumper sticker. In the ad, the driver of the truck sees a group of minority children and chases them through parks, streets, and eventually to a dead-end alley, where the terrified children huddle together in helplessness.

The ad ends with the same children jolting awake in their beds, the truck and its driver an apparent nightmare. Images of the torch-bearing white supremacists from August’s Charlottesville rally flash on screen as a narrator’s voice asks, “Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the ‘American Dream?’”

Ultimately, the ad was pulled, but only after a radical Islamic terrorist drove a truck into a crowd of people in New York City on October 31. Yet the disturbing depiction of innocent children running for their lives represented a sickening turn in a gubernatorial race that has sadly become the new archetype in American politics.

Say what you will about the ads Ed Gillespie has run against his opponent -- Ralph Northam certainly has. Northam was all too happy to condemn Gillespie’s ads suggesting Northam’s platform was soft on crime, calling them “despicable” and “a bunch of baloney.” The Washington Post also piled on, saying Gillespie’s ads “use specious claims and appeals to race and ethnicity to scare and divide.” (While it is not clear how Gillespie’s ads are “specious” or exploitative of race and ethnicity; it is undisputed that MS-13 uses illegal channels of immigration from Central America to expand its ranks in Virginia.)

Turn the tables, however, and Northam seems content to embrace the benefits of left-wing extremists suggesting his opponent is complicit in murderous white supremacy. The most his campaign could muster -- only after days of intense backlash, I hasten to add -- was to dismiss the ad as one which he “would not have run.”

Northam’s cowardice is out of step with what Virginians want in a leader. Not only has the Libertarian candidate in the gubernatorial race called on his rivals to cease lobbing “wild-eyed accusations,” seasoned political operatives on both sides of the aisle have frowned upon the racial overtones of the race. Even the Washington Post’s editors, who previously endorsed Northam, have condemned the Latino Victory Fund’s ad as “vile.”

For Virginians deciding which lever to pull on November 7, Northam’s willingness to smear a good man just to boost his dwindling poll numbers is not just a sign of desperation -- it is a glimpse into the Democratic candidate’s personal character.

Sure, Gillespie has run ads that attack his opponent’s softness toward illegal immigration, but let us not forget that encouraging a tougher stance on illegal immigration -- specifically, enhancing border security, as Gillespie wants to do -- was a Democratic talking point as recently as 2013. Indeed, it was President Clinton who oversaw passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, and President Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in history, earning him the moniker “Deporter in Chief.” Moreover, Gillespie was one of the first Republicans to condemn the white supremacists who spewed their poison in Charlottesville.

On that point, the pro-Northam ad by the Latino Victory Fund was not just below the belt -- it was plainly wrong. Still, Northam remained indifferent.

In sum, the ad was fearmongering at its worst. It reflects in the Latino Victory Fund a foaming-at-the-mouth obsession with painting conservative voters as bloodthirsty racists and minorities as helpless children. The perversity of scaring immigrants as a means to gain power is astonishing, yet it is a tactic Northam seemed content to tolerate. Virginia deserves better.

Thomas Wheatley is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia. A regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog, he holds a law degree from the Antonin Scalia Law School and was a 2016 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Email him at tnwheatley@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.

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