Trump puts local candidates in a deplorable situation

No good choice for down ballot GOP candidates

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

timespoliticsunusualUm, now what?

If you think the average American doesn’t know what to think about the tapes revealed Friday involving Donald Trump’s comments on women, imagine if you happen to a Republican appearing on the Nov. 8 ballot for Congress or the State Legislature.

I’m not going to address the actual content of the comments — they speak for themselves — other than to say as someone who worked in the New York City area media in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the first rise and fall of Trump, not only is this not a surprise, but something I’ve been saying (including in this space) was going to come. And worse is coming, very likely.

No, the question is how candidates and campaigns on both sides of the aisle decide to play this out.

For the Democrats, it’s easy: staple Trump to their opponent and watch them squirm and try to change the conversation. The Senate Democrats are already up with commercials hammering U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (who has tried to avoid the Trump subject almost entirely all year). Expect more of the same from the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — looking to link three local GOP candidates to Trump and his comments, suddenly thinking there’s a real shot to take back Democratic control of the House of Representatives.

But for Republicans, it’s a bigger problem.

If you disavow Trump, you threaten the turnout and support of the Trump supporters, many of who have been feuding with local establishment leaders — I’ve been getting incredibly hostile emails for a couple of years now from a faction of the party denouncing party chair Val DiGiorgio. Those folks are solidly in the Trump camp and will seek vengeance against candidates and party officials who bail on Trump.

Already, you can see the nuance in the statements of the four Congressional candidates in the county on the issue.

“Donald Trump’s comments were outrageous and unacceptable,” Toomey said in a statement.

“Donald Trump’s comments in the recently released video are atrocious, disrespectful towards women, and are incredibly inappropriate for someone who wants to lead our country,” said Ryan Costello (R-6).

“As a husband and a father of two daughters, I find Donald Trump’s comments about women to be lewd, inappropriate and appalling. I strongly denounce these offensive comments” said Lloyd Smucker, GOP candidate in the 16th District.

Three denunciations, but no un-endorsement or a call for Trump to withdraw.

And then there’s Pat Meehan (R-7) who does both.

“For the good of the country, the Republican Party, and his family, I hope he’ll step aside and end his candidacy for President so that we can come together as a party and defeat Hillary Clinton,” Meehan said. “This sort of vile talk is appalling, it’s offensive, and there’s no place in public or private for it. It’s simply wrong.”

Why the different take?

My guess is this: Meehan’s district, which has a lot of moderate Republicans and Democrats, has a lot less of the Tea Party/Trump die hards and Meehan has the room to appeal more strongly to moderate, suburban women.

For the other three — Toomey can’t risk losing voters in the “T,” the central, conservative portion of the state — while Costello has similar challenges in parts of Chester and Berks counties (keep in mind that Trump won Chester County in the primary). Smucker may have it even worse, with ultra-conservative sections of southwest Chester County and much of Lancaster County. For any of them, abandoning Trump will bring the ire of a large voting block.

The downside, of course, is losing women and independents in districts that are slowly adding more of both — and worse, especially for down-ballot legislative candidates, tamping down voter turnout among some segments of the GOP, just as Democrats will be especially fired up to take down Trump. And, it gives Democratic candidates plenty of ammo:

“Our campaign has repeatedly called for Lloyd Smucker to repudiate his standard-bearer’s troubling and disgusting words,” said Christina Hartman, the Democrat running against Smucker, in a statement Friday. “Tonight is no different. Donald Trump denigrates women, yet he’s earned Lloyd Smucker’s support. Lloyd Smucker must be held accountable and at Monday’s debate he will finally have to explain to the people of this district why he has endorsed a man who makes casual and lewd remarks about sexual assault.”

While Trump might be the Fort Sumpter of the growing civil war in the GOP, the causes predate him — and the fingerprints can be seen on everything to the continuing attacks on DiGiorgio and other mainstream party leaders to how former State Sen. Dominic Pileggi was shoved — hard — out of leadership and ultimately out of the senate by insurgents, rebelling against the more moderate power players in the party. Like the French Revolution, the radicals have grabbed the reins of the GOP, demanding strict purity tests. It would be no surprise to see some more folks lose their heads, figuratively speaking, as the party splits itself into two.

Unfortunately, Trump is a symptom — not the disease — for Republicans, deeply split coming into this cycle. As it appears that Trump doesn’t much care how much damage he does to the party, the next month doesn’t bode well for GOP candidates or campaigns.

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