ASCH: On Tommy Norment, the College Republicans’ silence is deafening

The lack of response from conservatives about Norment is demonstrative of our deeply toxic political culture

senator-tommy-norment

Tommy Norment (R) is the Majority Leader in the Virginia State Senate. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The last few weeks in Virginia politics have been pretty rough for Democrats. First, it was uncovered that Gov. Ralph Northam was found to have had racist pictures on his page of his medical school yearbook, and then, he unfortunately handled the situation in a way that can only be described as a textbook example on how to not handle a crisis. A few days later, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexually assaulting two women — charges that he has unequivocally, though not always factually, denied. This left Attorney General Mark Herring, who later admitted to doing blackface while he was an undergraduate at the University, despite having called on Northam to resign prior to his admission. These scandals consumed the media for what seemed like an eternity, and these three all faced condemnation and calls to resign. 

These calls were particularly strong amongst young people. The University Democrats at U.Va. called on all three statewide Democrats to resign in a statement. The College Republicans at U.Va. released a similar statement calling on Northam and Herring to resign, while also urging that the charges against Fairfax be taken seriously and investigated. The College Republicans also put out an earlier statement criticizing Northam over his abortion comments made before the current scandal broke. However, there is one scandal that has slipped through the cracks — Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment and his tenure working on the Virginia Military Institute’s yearbook. 

Recently, it was discovered that several individuals pictured in blackface and several racial epithets were included in a VMI yearbook in 1968 that was compiled while he was Managing Editor. This means he approved or was at least was cognizant of these images being part of the yearbook. This was made clear when he admitted that because of his position he was “culpable” for what appeared in the yearbook. However, Norment denied that he was in or took any of the photos that appeared in it, and followed by noting his abhorrence at the use of blackface and his previous support for the integration of VMI. 

This discovery and admission by Norment would seem to to warrant backlash from Conservatives, especially considering their condemnation of several Democratic officials who committed similar acts. Despite the statements calling on Democrats to resign, the College Republicans have yet to release a statement on Norment. 

Furthermore, statewide Republican leaders seemed to completely dismiss the controversy. Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) stated, “It's unfair to compare assisting in the production of a yearbook to the other revelations from this week” and also pointed to Norment’s statements in support of VMI gaining more inclusive admissions policies. In addition, the Republican Party of Virginia has yet to publish a statement on the matter. This inaction and dismissal indicates that the Republican Party as a whole is failing to hold their leaders accountable. 

Some would say this lack of response is indicative of our partisan political culture, where many of us run to partisan corners and cheer when the other side is engulfed in scandal, all the while refusing to hold our own accountable.

This analysis is only partially accurate, however. The asymmetrical response to these crises actually suggests that Democrats are the only party committed to holding their political officials to a high standard. One only has to contrast the Democrats’ response to Virginia’s recent political crises to the Republican Party’s lackluster response to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) saying he saw nothing wrong with white supremacy or sweeping under the rug that their party leader admitted on tape to committing sexual assault to know this is true. In fact, it is hard to even fathom Democrats in this modern era not calling on their own elected officials to resign if they did anything even remotely close to these incidents. 

Ultimately, the lack of response from the College Republicans and the Republican Party as a whole is disappointing because it injects partisanship into what should be an objective standard of right and wrong. Politicians must be held to a higher standard and often deserve to be condemned or even asked to step down if their actions warrant such a response. However, if this standard is not enforced equally across the political spectrum, we will end up in a very dangerous place where we tolerate the intolerable only because it moves policy in the direction we support. Even though the University Democrats have not released a statement on Norment either, it is the responsibility of the supporters of these political parties to hold their own leaders accountable, and that responsibility falls squarely on the College Republicans’ shoulders. For the good of the country and our political system, this one-sidedness when it comes to accountability must end, and that starts with condemning Tommy Norment. 

Jacob Asch is the Executive Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com

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