The Pennsylvania primary showed a Republican party in disarray

The midterms are still months away, but Tuesday night was proof that the GOP is getting very good at shooting itself in the foot

Nathan McDermott
New York
Wednesday 18 May 2022 15:54 BST
Election 2022 Pennsylvania Senate
Election 2022 Pennsylvania Senate (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

John Fetterman won his primary from a hospital bed Tuesday night, but the Democratic Party is the healthiest it has been this campaign cycle. That’s in no small part because of his landslide victory, at least in Pennsylvania. Republicans meanwhile, have found themselves divided. Talk show host, doctor, and Oprah acolyte Mehmet Oz is in a virtual tie with David McCormick, a hedge fund manager and former official in the George W. Bush White House, and the outcome for that race won’t be known for days. Both are competing against the other to challenge Fetterman to become the state’s next senator.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the Republican establishment tried in vain to stop state Senator Doug Mastriano from becoming the party’s nominee for governor. Mastriano is a far-right candidate who denies the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. It’s no surprise then that, while other Republicans dropped out of the gubernatorial race to stop his toxic candidacy from leading the ticket, the Republican whose opinion matters the most — Donald Trump — endorsed him.

Mastriano won his primary comfortably, though with less than 50 percent of the vote, compared to the Democratic candidate for governor, Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed. The popular Attorney General, Shapiro, along with Fetterman, will bring a united Democratic party against a divided Republican slate.

For the past several years (or decades) headlines proclaiming “Democrats in Disarray” have become so common as to be cliché, but last night it was the Republicans who were truly in disarray. Trump hangs over the party like the Sword of Damocles, threatening any candidate who doesn’t swear fealty to him, and by default endorse his baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. As a result, every Republican is falling over themselves to curry Trump’s favor in the primary, even if it means damaging themselves in the general election.

McCormick is a former Democrat hedge fund manager who until recently lived in Connecticut. Oz is a Hollywood personality who has committed numerous Republican heresies by previously supporting gun control, abortion rights, and the belief that transgender children deserve dignity. Like McCormick, Oz lived in New Jersey until deciding he wanted to run for senate in Pennsylvania.

Neither of these men could credibly claim to be MAGA, and their previous moderate stances could have helped them in a general election, but they threw all that out to kiss the ring of Trump. Meanwhile, a third candidate, Kathy Barnette, is a true blue America Firster. She’s espoused homophobic and Islamophobic views, and attened the January 6th Stop the Steal rally before marching with inssurectionists to the capitol.

Trump ultimately gave his endorsement to fellow television personality, Oz, though Trump’s base in Pennsylvania have only ever been lukewarm to him, going so far as to boo Oz at a campaign rally with Trump.

No wonder the party is divided. Republicans in Pennsylvania have to choose between a mainstream Republican in McCormick who’s tried to shed that image, a MAGA phony who’s managed to get Trump’s endorsement, or a MAGA devotee in Barnette who the party has publicly rejected.

Trump’s machinations also divided the party with his endorsement of Mastriano for governor. Unlike Oz, Mastriano is a sincere MAGA devotee, and was one of the central figures in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. His victory speech Tuesday night was filled with diatribes against GOP red meat topics such as critical race theory, transgender people, and vaccines. He’s so extreme that he risks losing the swing state to Democrats, even in a climate that favors Republicans. Little wonder that party insiders tried up until the last minute to torpedo his candidacy. Trump had no such qualms, and endorsed him days before the primary.

Democrats, by contrast, were a model of unity Tuesday night. And not just the nose-holding, “vote blue no matter who” forced unity we’ve been used to, but a consolidated unit showing genuine excitement for their candidates.

Moderate Representative Connor Lamb was backed by virtually every Democrat who chose to endorse a candidate in the race, but lost handily to Fetterman, who comes across as a mix between Bernie Sanders and Hulk Hogan. Despite having no party backing, the base loves him. Despite his outsider persona, Fetterman wisely doesn’t thumb his nose at the party leadership, which made it easier for Dems to coalesce around him immediately after his victory.

Josh Shapiro is more of an insider than Fetterman (he has spent nearly two decades in elective office) but is a self-described progressive and is liked by most Democrats in the state. He has also made it clear he thinks Mastriano is the easiest Republican to beat in the governor’s race.

The midterms are still months away, but Republicans will be shooting themselves in the foot if they follow the alienating strategies that plagued their Pennsylvania candidates, while Democrats should only be so lucky.

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