Ralph Northam was for sanctuary cities before he was against them

In the Virginia governor’s race, Republican Ed Gillespie has attacked Democrat Ralph Northam for casting the deciding vote against legislation that would have banned sanctuary cites in the state. Gillespie received sharp criticism from the left-wing media for injecting the issue into the campaign.

The Washington Post accused Gillespie of trying “to harness the xenophobic fervor that propelled Donald Trump to the White House.” It portrayed Northam’s vote on sanctuary cities as a non-issue because Virginia doesn’t have any.

How a matter that’s before the state legislature on which a candidate cast the deciding vote can be a non-issue is beyond me, particular since, absent a ban on sanctuary cities, it’s quite possible that some of Virginia’s many liberal localities will become sanctuary cities. How it can be xenophobic to prohibit localities from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities also eludes me.

Now, at last, it seems to elude Northam too. Yesterday, he declared he would sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities if a Virginia locality tries to become one. He told a Norfolk television station, “If that bill comes to by desk . . . I sure will [sign it]. I’ve always been opposed to sanctuary cities.”

The xenophobe.

But if Northam has always been opposed to sanctuary cities why did he cast the deciding vote against such legislation? The legislation he sent to defeat simply provided:

No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

How could such legislation be objectionable to someone who has “always been opposed to sanctuary cities”? If one is opposed to them, what principle requires waiting for sanctuary cities to blossom before nixing them?

As Jim Geraghty suggests, the only material difference between the circumstances when Northam cast his vote against a ban on sanctuary cites and those that obtain now, when he has flopped on the issue, is this: when he cast his vote, Northam was trying to stave off a challenge from the left in the Democratic primary; today, he is trying to stave off an effective (and legitimate) line of attack in a tight race against a Republican.

It’s significant, I think, that Northam has cast his lot with the “xenophobes” for purposes of the general election and has done so in such a shameless manner. Reportedly, Northam’s team is concerned about lack of enthusiasm from the Democratic base and views turnout by immigrants as a key to victory. Thus, abandoning the position he took on sanctuary city legislation during the primary may carry a cost.

Northam’s flop suggests to me that, in the age of Trump, white suburbanites are less intimidated than before by knee-jerk charges of xenophobia and nativism, and that at least some Democrats in blue-leaning states recognize the need to more mindful than before of these voters’ concerns over illegal immigration and crime.

In Northam’s case,though, this is a lesson learned quite late in the game.

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