Once a producer of centrist Republicans like Arlen Specter and Tom Ridge, the state GOP now bears the MAGA stamp.
PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania once stocked D.C. with a steady stream of establishment Republicans. Now, in the wake of Donald Trump’s reelection defeat, it’s better known for its GOP hard-liners — among them, Scott Perry, the congressman who recently made headlines for his behind-the-scenes efforts to assist Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
The state GOP’s transformation from the party of former Sens. Arlen Specter and John Heinz — and Govs. Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge — to a bastion of Trump loyalists has been decades in the making. But the shift has perhaps never been so obvious as in the past two months when Republicans here were repeatedly thrust into the spotlight for their role in trying to override President Joe Biden’s victory.
GOP state legislative leaders called on Republican congressional members to object to the Electoral College results or “delay” their certification. Every House Republican in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, save one, obliged, voting to invalidate their state’s Electoral College votes.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2022, traveled to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and even advertised a bus to take protesters there. In the weeks after the deadly riot, a right-wing state representative, Daryl Metcalfe, said on Facebook that the FBI called his office asking about the day of the insurrection and referred to the agency’s tip line as a “snitch” line.
“It’s not the party that I belonged to years ago,” said Robert Byer, a former Republican judge and legal counsel for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign in Pennsylvania. “The whole notion that officeholders could impugn the integrity of the election in our commonwealth, it bothers me greatly. It bothers me as a citizen.”
In 2016, the hard-right turn of the state GOP was a boon for the party: Trump became the first Republican to win the presidential election in Pennsylvania in nearly 30 years. But since then, it has caused damage. After clinging to Trump, the GOP nominees for governor and senator in 2018 lost by double digits. Democrats also picked up House seats that year in part thanks to the Philadelphia suburbs, a former GOP stronghold. And in the fall, Biden took back Pennsylvania, again fueled by a Trump backlash in the populous suburbs of the state’s largest city.
Next year offers another referendum on the Trumpification of Pennsylania Republicans: There will be rare open seats for both governor and senator. Democrats and Never-Trump Republicans promise to ensure that swing voters remember the efforts to overturn the state’s presidential election results based on allegations that were without evidence. Republicans say the party’s pro-Trump base will be energized by lawmakers who railed against election fraud and objected to Biden electors.
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