Meet the Republicans who have suddenly discovered that racism is bad

It's not enough to just call out racist acts when the other party is responsible.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), left, campaigned with Rep. Steve King (R-IA), center, in 2016.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), left, campaigned with Rep. Steve King (R-IA), center, in 2016. CREDIT: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Virginia and national Republicans have joined the bipartisan chorus demanding the resignation of Virginia’s Democratic governor. But many of the same people now decrying his racist behavior have done little to nothing to impede racists in their own party or to fight against legal discrimination.

Since the news broke Friday that an image of two people, one in blackface and one dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman appeared on Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) medical school yearbook page, condemnations from Virginia and national politicians and activists have been swift.

Northam first apologized for appearing in the racist photo, then denied having been in the photo at all, and then acknowledged that he had appeared in blackface around the same time elsewhere — but this has done little to quell the nearly universal calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for him to resign from office.

But as the push for Northam’s resignation quickly spread, several progressives online began pointing out the double standard. Many noted that few of the same folks have called for the resignation of white supremacist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) or spoken out against racist President Donald Trump as he defended white nationalists, pushed for a Muslim ban, demonized Mexican immigrants, and made voter suppression a priority for his administration. Reminders that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R) also appeared with racist organizations went viral. And others noted the irony that the Virginia Republican Party nominated racist George Allen for Senate in 2006 and 2012 and pro-Confederate Corey Stewart for U.S. Senate just last year.

In addition to the heads of the Republican National Committee and Republican Party of Virginia demanding Northam step down and Trump himself calling Northam’s actions “unforgivable,” numerous other prominent Republicans have selectively criticized Northam but done little else about racism in their party and public policy. They include:

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA)

The senior Republican in Virginia’s Congressional delegation, condemned Northam and said the state needs a leader who can move “who is moving us forward, not backward.” But he has not demanded the resignation of King, endorsed Corey Stewart in 2018, and declined to co-sponsor the Voting Rights Advancement Act in the last Congress.

Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA)

The first term Republican congressman was a long-time member of the Virginia House of Delegates prior to January. In that time, he voted for Virginia’s strict voter ID law and campaigned alongside Corey Stewart. He condemned the “racist behavior depicted in the photos” and urged Northam to “make the best decision for the future of our Commonwealth and step down immediately.”

Virginia House and Senate GOP leaders

Virginia State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, House Majority Whip Nick Rush, and House Republican Caucus Chair Tim Hugo all demanded the governor resign.  The House leaders said that Northam’s “ability to lead and govern is permanently impaired and the interests of the Commonwealth necessitate his resignation.”


Each one also voted for strict photo ID laws. Norment even sued former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to stop his voter re-enfranchisement plan and offered a constitutional amendment to permanently ban people committed of violent felonies from ever regaining the right to vote.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cruz tweeted that “anybody who voluntarily chooses to celebrate the evil & bigoted KKK is unfit for public office.” But since running against Trump for president in 2016, Cruz has been one of his most enthusiastic supporters and has not criticized his racist behavior. After Steve King’s latest round of white nationalist comments emerged last month, Cruz called them “stupid” but refused to even say that he would not back his longtime political ally in the future. Cruz has not supported the Voting Rights Advancement Act, backs strict voter ID laws, and supported a repeal of the Voting Rights Act’s pre-clearance provisions.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL)

The new senator from Florida demanded Northam resign after seeing his “horrible” yearbook picture. But over his two terms as governor, Scott was noted by the Palm Beach Post for rejecting almost all civil rights restoration requests by people with felony convictions in Florida — unless the applicants were white. He also spent much of his tenure fighting to illegally purge voters from the rolls based on a list so error-riddled that even Republican elections supervisors refused to carry out his scheme. Scott defended then-gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis (R) last summer following his racist comments about the Democratic nominee who is black, saying, “I know he didn’t mean any ill will.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) 

McCarthy tweeted that after his “past racist behavior,” Northam’s “[s]taying in office only poisons efforts to grow together as one nation.” McCarthy has strongly backed Trump and has not backed the Voting Rights Advancement Act — nor did he take any action during his four-plus years as House Majority Leader to bring a voting rights legislation up for consideration. While he stripped King of committee assignments, McCarthy pointedly refused to call for his resignation, saying that should be left up to him.

Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN)

Bucshon opined that Northam “should resign” because there is “no place in our society for racism in any form.” But he has not made similar demands of King or Trump and has not co-sponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

Gaetz has repeatedly tweeted mocking Northam about his racist yearbook and his subsequent denials with comments like, “No way America buys that it was two random people on #RalphNortham’s yearbook page right?”


Gaetz is a fierce Trump defender who actually thanked him for his comments after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. At the time, Trump blamed the violence on “both sides.” Gatez has also not called for King to resign and has not backed the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) 

Stefanik tweeted, “Virginians deserve a new Governor. Ralph Northam should resign.” But she has not called for King to resign, has not backed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, and drew criticism for her initial response to Charlottesville which initially simply condemned “hatred and bigotry.”

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC)

Walker tweeted:If you don a mask or a hood of racism and hatred you have no business in our public discourse. Governor Northam needs to step aside.” But he has not made the same demand of King, saying only, “Republicans as a whole have tried to respect the voters’ wishes, specifically in Iowa in this case. Even though we’ve had some things we’ve gone on record and publicly disagreed with Mr. King on, I think it’s reached a place that any time — it’s kind of like a football team. . . . If it begins to impact the team in a negative way, then you have a team meeting and say we’ve got to work on this.” Though he has made much of his occasional efforts to boost GOP outreach to black voters, he has not co-sponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

Zeldin tweeted that Northam was “guilty of lying with a straight face” about his yearbook and urged him to go to church on Sunday and resign on Monday.  But he has not backed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, has not called on King to resign, and actually defended Trump’s “both sides” reaction to Charlottesville, saying, “I would add though that it is not right to suggest that President Trump is wrong for acknowledging the fact that criminals on both sides showed up for the purpose of being violent. That particular observation is completely true.” Zeldin also hosted a 2018 fundraising event featuring Sebastian Gorka (the former Trump aide with ties to a Hungarian Nazi party) and Steve Bannon (Trump’s former chief strategist and former head of a white-nationalist-tied Breitbart website).

Ryan Koronowski contributed research to this story.