The bizarre post-Trump politics of Pennsylvania’s Republican primaries

For pollsters following the race, Oz’s failure to separate from the field has been tied to Barnette’s rise. “The biggest faction in the Republican primary are strong Trump voters,” Berwood Yost, who leads the Franklin & Marshall College poll, told me. Although one might have expected them to follow Trump in the Oz column, “in fact, about half are for Oz and half are for Barnette.” During the May 4 debate, when one of the moderators asked Barnette to respond to Trump’s endorsement of his opponent, Barnette alluded to a disconnect between the president and his supporters, “MAGA does not belong to President Trump,” she said. “Our values ​​never evolved into President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who changed and aligned with our values.

Pennsylvania is both the tipping state of American politics – it has voted twice for Barack Obama, for Trump in 2016, then for Biden in 2020, all by very narrow margins – and perhaps the most transformed by the political upheavals of the past decade. The affluent suburbs of Philadelphia’s four “hill counties”, not so long ago the heartland of the state’s Republican party, have swung sharply to the Democrats, while the post-industrial cities and towns of the inside the state went from mildly Republican to mostly Republican. . The political dividing line between the western Philadelphia suburbs of Chester County and the right-wing countryside, the home base of Mastriano and a part of Republican Pennsylvania that is neither impoverished nor in decline, is now among the most net of the country.

This line also separates suburban areas where the Republican Party still has an organizational infrastructure from those where it must work by proxy. Barley, the Harrisburg Republican who was the campaign manager for the state’s last Republican governor, Tom Corbett, told me that in the pass counties the local Republican party is still well funded and still bringing in its voters at the polls. But in more rural counties where the Republican vote is growing, Barley continued, Party organizations are generally quite weak, in part because of the conservative base’s post-Tea Party antipathy for the Republican establishment, and in part. partly because wealthy donors are increasingly investing in individual campaigns rather than Republican Party infrastructure. To get Republican votes in rural Pennsylvania, Barley said, “You have to find the people who are like the organizers, don’t you? And typically it’s not the Party. These are the Trump-type patriot groups.

Another change is that the so-called “ways” of the Republican electorate have lost their importance. Traditionally, candidates’ preferences among conservatives have been driven by their question preferences, for example, whether they identify more strongly with socially conservative positions or economic positions. But regardless of the degree to which such distinctions once drove Republican voter choices, Brock McCleary, a Republican pollster who often works in Pennsylvania, told me, “That’s less the case now. On the conservative side,” he said, “it orbits around Trump, and it’s not driven by the definition between ‘very conservative’ and ‘quite conservative’ or any other difference there.

In the race for the Pennsylvania Senate, establishment resistance to those changes has been organized around the candidacy of David McCormick, who as West Pointer, Powell’s husband and CEO of the investment giant Bridgewater Advisors, was perfectly placed to organize the Party behind him, or buy what he could not organize. One of his prominent campaign advisers, Kristin Davison, helped Republican millionaire Glenn Youngkin win the governorship in Virginia last year.

Recently, I caught up with the McCormick campaign in a low-ceilinged room at the American Legion in Wilkes-Barre and, for a minute or two, I could almost see her: a man in the shape of a fire hydrant who had once a co-captain of the wrestling team at West Point, McCormick exuded optimism and energy, and organized his stump speech around reversing Biden’s inflationary economic policies, liberalizing fracking rules and the hardening of China. As an airborne officer in the first Gulf War, he had an innate loyalty among the crowd of veterans -“Airborne!shouted a man, just as McCormick took the stage. But, towards the end, as the businessman tried to pivot to his closing message, a woman spoke, somewhat laconically, from the back of the crowd. “What about election integrity?” she asked. “I haven’t heard anything about it.” McCormick, looking eager to please, stepped up to her and said he was in favor of voter ID laws, but she seemed impassive. She shouted, “What about censorship?” She wanted to assess him against the MAGA posts. Seeing McCormick try to answer, I thought: Good preacher, bad congregation.

For half a decade, a salient topic of political conversation has been how Trump has transformed the Republican Party. The new entity is cruder, more pugnacious, hostile to immigration and overseas business, and ready to talk nonsense about big business, if not raise their taxes. These changes and the Republican Party’s capitulation to Trump have defined conservatism ever since. But the rise of Mastriano and Barnette in the Pennsylvania election suggests that the dominant faction in Republican politics, the “Trump conservatives,” is no longer driven by the fights the former president picks, or the candidates he picks. he defends, as much as through the broader conflicts between secular liberalism and religious conservatism. Energizing campaigns for rank-and-file conservatives in 2022 have focused primarily on toughening anti-abortion laws and stopping “groomers” in public schools and their accomplices in the Democratic Party. Most conservative politicians of the moment project fearlessness. “You think Ron DeSantis is good?” Mastriano joked at a rally he organized last weekend. “Amateur.” These campaigns share Trump’s style, but they’re also more rooted in social conservatism than Trump himself ever was. Among the most interesting questions for Republicans in the coming months will be: How will the emphasis on social conservatism among the base shift the balance of power within the Party, and in what measure will Trump be effective in co-opting him?

Recently, there has been a flurry of Republican activity to keep Mastriano and Barnette’s nominations out of reach. The results have been mixed. Sean Hannity, who had supported Oz, lashed out at Barnette on his TV show, saying she was “never vetted” and reading past tweets in which she said Trump’s “moral character was questionable” and called Barack Obama a Muslim. Meanwhile, the Club for Growth, seemingly determined to defeat Oz and Trump above all else, suddenly endorsed Barnette and bought $2 million worth of ads to support her. It was easy enough to see evidence of panic, but nearly impossible to see anything like effective coordination.

A Party establishment that has gone so far to appease Trump now lacks both a way to appeal to Trump’s conservatives and a credible alternative vision. “Mastriano is going to get every Holocaust denier vote,” said Ryan Costello, a Republican former congressman from Chester County. “If that’s your problem, he’s the only candidate who said exactly what you think and feel.” Barnette, he added, held a similar position in the Senate race. But Costello, who has been critical of the Party’s transformation under Trump, also thought the McCormick campaign made a strategic mistake in courting Trump’s inner circle and seeking Trump’s endorsement. “I would argue that McCormick would be in a stronger position if he hadn’t elected to go in the Trump coin flip,” Costello said. “He was trying to tell the Republican electorate, ‘Hey, I’m Trump’s Republican, not Oz.’ “I asked Costello, who is forty-five years old and has been widely talked about as a potential Senate or gubernatorial nominee, if there was still a path for an anti-Trump Republican. watched the race, that was my thesis,” Costello said. “And I think that will remain true.” But it was hard to ignore that Costello, as well placed as anyone in the Pennsylvania Republican Party, had decided not to appear in 2022.

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