The big GOP loss no one is talking about

Could 2016 become a textbook example of win the battle, lose the war?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

timespoliticsunusualAcross America, Democrats wail in anguish while Republicans rejoice in total control of the federal government.

Confident of the outcome of the election, Democrats were quite sure that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump and they would regain control of the U.S. Senate.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

But if you’re a Republican, especially in Chester County, it might not be time to break out the champagne — and Democrats would be well advised to go home, change their sheets, and buck up: better days are coming.

Nationally, the Democrats aren’t nearly in as bad shape as seems to be generally seen. True, they blew it on messaging and economic policy. And yes, they desperately need new leaders born after 1960, with a new, more relevant platform. But — and this is important — Democrats just need to return to their roots, and not lurch wildly to the left to regain what they’ve lost without losing what they gained this cycle.

Gained? Ok, sure, Democrats lost some low-frequency voters in the western part of Pennsylvania — the kind of voters who never show up in odd year elections. What they gained was a bevy of moderate Republican, college-educated voters — Clinton won Chester County by an astounding nine points — which has to have local GOP leadership troubled.

Worse, with Trump in the White House, Democrats get the easy job of opposition — although they tend to be less aggressive in that role than Republicans — which means the current mob mentality will turn on a dime to immediately oppose Trump if he doesn’t keep his campaign promises.

Which, of course, he can’t.

And yes, local Democrats need to fix their campaign infrastructure problems, recruit and run good candidates for Township Supervisor, Borough Council and Board of Education, not to mention for county wide office — but the opportunity to grab those moderate Republican voters is there to be taken, if Democrats can get out of their own way.

Oddly, as they prepare to celebrate the inauguration of their president, Republicans have a slight problem: there’s no more “there” there.

In short: the party that stood for fiscal conservatism, free trade, an internationalist foreign policy and social conservatism no longer stands for any of those things, thanks to their new president-elect.

Fiscal conservatism? Not likely. Trump proposes a massive, deficit exploding tax cut and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, also likely to massively increase the federal deficit and the national debt. And history shows that tax cuts are really not that stimulative to the economy — especially those going to higher tax brackets — so an uptick in economic activity seems unlikely to make up for the lost revenue.

In fact, it seems increasingly likely that whomever won was going to be facing a recession in the second half of 2017, based on leading economic indicators — something even Trump himself acknowledged earlier this year. So what was going to be a downturn might morph into a Gold-Plated Great Recession, Part II. And yes, the last time the GOP controlled the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, 1929, they ran into a bit of a problem less than a year into running things: The Great Depression.

Couple that with the giant financial mess in Harrisburg — the new structural deficit is more than $2 billion, something Republicans haven’t been able to manage in more than a decade — and it’s pretty clear that anyone referring to Republicans as fiscal conservatives is doing so with tongue firmly in cheek.

Social conservative? Okay, you may get judges that reverse Roe v. Wade — which by the way would doom the GOP in a county where about 70% of voters are pro-choice — and reverse gay marriage (ditto as support for same-sex marriage is even higher hereabouts).

But you also have a president that by his own admission, cheated on at least two of his previous wives. Then you have the whole Access Hollywood tape (and likely more stuff, coming out in tell-alls that are much more valuable financially with a President Trump in office). And then there’s all the Melania Trump nude and semi-lesbian photos out there (me, I could care less, but it has to grate on social conservatives to have a soft-core-porn First Lady). Evangelical Christians would seem to find themselves headed on the walk of shame — once the euphoria passes — and they realize what they voted for.

Free trade? Done. We may see tariffs on day one — which will quickly lead to price increases and a potential trade war with China.

I could go on — but you know I have a point — no party has had a president in such opposition to its own alleged core values since John Tyler inherited the office from William Henry Harrison in 1841. As those of us who are students of history know: Tyler went to war with his own party, was formally expelled, leading to the dissolution of the Whig Party a little more than a decade later and laid the groundwork for the Civil War.

Beyond that, though, it worked out great.

This disconnect is only going to heighten an ongoing war for the soul, such as is left, of the Republican Party — a battle that has been underway for more than six years in Chester County.

While 2017 could be fairly quiet on that front, expect 2018 to be where the GOP bursts into the flames of out and out civil war. With the gubernatorial race highlighting the divisions, as the radical faction of the party pushes state Sen. Scott Wagner — the trash-talking trashman — against the likes of former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley or House Majority Leader Dave Reed, the likely picks of the old-school moderate Republican establishment.

If Wagner ends up winning the GOP nomination, the economy tanks and Trump continues to be as wildly unpopular as it appears he will be, based on current polling, Gov. Tom Wolf — who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire — might cruise to victory on the basis of being less horrifying than the alternative.

Such a scenario, with moderate Republicans in Chester County defecting from the party nominee once again, could well cement the end of GOP dominance in the county.

Assuming the House Democratic Campaign Committee and State Senate Democratic Campaign fire (and possibly exile from working in politics) their entire staffs and hire people who actually know what they’re doing, a half-dozen legislative seats will be in play in 2018. Of course, that’s a big assumption — as both groups are noted for hiring staff that could lose a round of Jeopardy to a single-celled life form.

The biggest immediate loser: Chester County GOP chair Val DiGiorgio, who had been seen as a contender to lead the state party. DiGiorgio is deeply establishment and under fire from the right-wing of his own county party. Losing the county by nine points at the top of the ticket when the state went for Trump will probably doom him from state-wide aspirations.

In short — things are about to get interesting in these parts.


Looks like the race in the the 156th is on the verge of being a rerun of the 2006 election — on election night it appeared that incumbent Republican State Rep. Dan Truitt won by a few dozen votes.

But, depending on how — and whether in some cases — a combination of military and provisional ballots is counted, the campaign of West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, the Democrat challenging for the seat, is claiming to now have an 18 vote lead, but the status of some of those ballots may be determined at a special Election Board hearing, Tuesday morning.

And while the hearing itself may have an impact on which ballots are counted, what seems likely, based on the 2006 extended play battle between Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith and Republican Shannon Royer, is an honest to goodness recount. Royer appeared to be the narrow winner on election night, only to see his lead evaporate with provisional, absentee, and military ballots in the final recount.

Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, this race appears headed toward a recount — a tough situation for both candidates (it seems the voters had a tough choice picking between the two solid candidates — a point we made in our endorsements last month) as every twist and turn — every vote — could ultimately decide the race.

An interesting side note: McIlvaine-Smith’s campaign manager in 2006? Democratic County Committee Vice Chair Lani Frank. Comitta’s campaign manager: Frank. At minimum, she knows her way through such a fight and how to win them.

We wish both Comitta and Truitt — quality people — as heartburn-free a Thanksgiving as humanly possible and a quick, thorough and fair recount process.

It’s also yet another reminder that every single vote counts — and too many folks still take Election Day outcomes for granted.


On that, we’re going to stand down from this column until Jan., 2017. If I’ve had enough of politics, you’ve had way too much. Enjoy your families and friends — and try talk about something beside politics — on Thanksgiving and at holiday meals and gatherings.

A little peace and joy goes a long way.

See you in 2017.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment