Don’t blame Trump for all of this chaos

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

I remember taking my mother to the hospital in December of 1992. X-rays showed a mass in her lung. By June, 1993, she was gone.

We blamed the cancer. But in truth, it was all those years of smoking Pall Mall Gold 100s — as a kid, she used send me down to the local deli to pick up a couple of packs, which she smoked every day until about five years before she died, when her doctor finally convinced her to quit, cold turkey. 40-plus years later, I feel a bit of guilt for enabling that behavior as a kid, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

If that seems like an odd and overly personal way to open a political column, hear me out.

President Donald J. Trump is like that tumor — everyone (most notably, departing members of Congress) wants to blame him for the chaos, the scandals and the  possible thrashing of Republicans this fall.

The problem is that Republicans have been metaphorically smoking eight packs of unfiltered Camels a day for more than three decades and now, some, seem surprised at the outcome.

Maybe it started with The Moral Majority (which then and now was neither) — arrogant faux moralism is a gateway drug — or the day the National Rifle Association was taken over by extremists in 1978, or maybe it all started in November, 1960, when it seems pretty obvious now that Democrats stole the presidential election from Richard Nixon. That built up resentment and anger, and his subsequent ouster during Watergate fed it even more. Newt Gingrich and Fox News took that sense of grievance, amplified it and then  profited from it.

The GOP has spent more than a generation as the party of grievance — which is deeply unhealthy both for the party and the country. More worrisome, its becoming increasingly evident that Democrats are beginning to embrace grievance as well, which explains much of today’s poisoned atmosphere (the unacceptable on the record distribution of unsubstantiated charges against White House Physician Ronny Jackson — who was Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Administration before withdrawing Thursday— is an example).

Winning — not what’s best for America — has become the only goal. It is corrosive, polarizing and ultimately, as Republicans are just now grasping, self-destructive. Democrats should take heed before they, too, find themselves with their own political tumor.

Typifying that behavior — and you could list dozens, maybe hundreds more — is a comment posted on Facebook last week by State Rep. Darryl Metcalfe (R-12), who chairs the House State Government Committee:  “I block all substantive Democrat legislation sent to my committee and advance good Republican legislation!”

Doesn’t matter, in Metcalfe’s mind, whether the Democratic bills have merit, he blocked them. By the way, this is the same guy who brazenly gutted the bipartisan independent redistricting bill championed by local State Rep. Eric Roe (R-158) so that a Republican majority in the legislature would continue to control redistricting, and thus, who wins elections.

Win. At. All. Costs.

We saw it for eight years under President Barack Obama. If he wanted something, a large majority of Republicans were against it. Not for the merits in all cases — obviously, it’s not unusual for legislators of one party to oppose the priorities of a president in another — but because they could never allow Obama a win. The entire guts of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — were crafted from Republican ideas, ideas put into place in Massachusetts by then Gov. Mitt Romney. Rank and file Democrats wanted single payer, or at least Medicare For All — but Obama figured embracing GOP policy was the best way to make progress.

Win. At. All. Costs.

We saw it with the U.S. Senate refusing to take up the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed that it was inappropriate for a president to nominate a justice in an election year. The fact that it had happened six times since 1912 — the most recent being Anthony Kennedy toward the end of President Ronald Reagan’s Administration — was immaterial.

Win. At. All. Costs.

But in the end, it poisons your own well.

Example A: the embarrassing campaign for Governor in Pennsylvania.

Paul Mango and Scott Wagner have been playing scorched Earth politics against each other — not really caring if the other is mortally wounded for the general election against Gov. Tom Wolf.

Aside from the fact that really only Laura Ellsworth stands any chance of beating Wolf in the fall — she’s a moderate, grown up who has comported herself with dignity while focusing on issues and she would pull very strongly in the vote-dense collar counties of Philadelphia as well as in the suburban counties of the Pittsburgh area she hails from — Mango and Wagner are indulging in the kind of self-indulgent, undisciplined food fight that turns off voters and hurts the party in the long term.

But again, even in primaries:

Win. At. All. Costs.

This isn’t a sustainable model in politics and has proven deeply destructive in the past.

America needs two healthy, functioning parties — the yin and yang as it were — to keep things in balance. One hopes that the old moderation, sanity and conservatism (as opposed to the current reactionary behavior) find their place again within the Republican Party, and soon.


It appears some of the long-term damage of that behavior is catching up with Pennsylvania’s Republican Party. A report this week in City & State Pennsylvania suggests that the state party is in dire financial straits and saw much of its top staff — familiar names to those who follow Chester County politics — depart.

Current state and Chester County Party Chair Val DiGiorgio appears to be under fire in both positions — on the state level he waded into the nasty Wagner-Mango fight, locally, because many question his ability to run a county party and a statewide party at the same time.

It remains early in the cycle – and Republicans have a knack for finding a handful of big checks just when they need them to fund campaign operations. Still, should the redistricting really shred the GOP Congressional delegation, as expected, Wolf get reelected and there be serious losses in the state legislature, DiGiorgio’s seat could become appreciably hotter in both posts.


Just when some voters in Chester County thought they’d not have to worry about a Congressional race before November — Democrat Chrissy Houlahan and Republican Greg McCauley are running unopposed in the May primary for the new 6th District — some voters in the southeast portion of the county get to vote in the old 7th District special election to replace Patrick Meehan, who resigned Friday.

Under state law, a special election must be called within 60 days of Meehan’s resignation, which means a potential quickie race for a seat that won’t exist in a few months. It’s hard to see who would benefit from running — maybe some of the many candidates running in the new 5th district, which is made up of most of Delaware County.

It offers the opportunity for a strange race — one where the winner serves a handful of months and finds themselves without a district.

As for Meehan, who has been my own member of Congress for the last few years, it doesn’t seem like a great loss to Chester County. He seemed unengaged with any part of his district outside of Delaware County and never really seemed to connect with his constituents here.


As for the Blue Wave, I remain somewhat unconvinced at this point. Yes, there are a lot of data points suggesting deep Democratic enthusiasm. Yes, there is dismay at Trump and the Congressional redistricting and lackluster GOP candidates in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate race will likely hurt Republican turnout, particularly in the suburbs.

But….and there’s always a but. I’d like to flash back to 2004. Despite then President George W. Bush being unpopular for the Iraq War and an active Democratic voter base, GOP voter turnout was off the hook.


A lot of voters I spoke with — I was running for State Representative at the time — told me they felt their entire party, and by extension, they — were under attack by groups such as MoveOn and that they had to get out and vote to protect their party and way of life. And boy, they sure did — Democrats turned out fairly well, but Republican turnout was exceptional.

So, in your calculations for the fall of 2018 you have to ask: will Republicans feel a need to vote because Trump and the party are under withering attack? It’s at least a possible scenario.

Despite being motivated and well funded, Democratic Get Out The Vote operations will be hampered by one factor: Democratic voters. To be honest, a big chunk of them are flakes or worse, can’t be bothered to vote unless they can vote for president. We used to call them 1-of-4s in my campaign management days — they only vote in presidential elections and were really hard to get to turn out any other time, because they just couldn’t be bothered. Visceral dislike of Trump may motivate them to come out, but you wonder whether a fatigue factor will set in and leave them on the sidelines, bored and distracted.

Yes, locally, it will be a shock if Democrats don’t pick up the 6th District seat and the 5th District seats in Congress — the demographics and voting history of both new districts strongly favor Democrats. That, in turn, could help with state legislative races.

But I remain skeptical of the blue wave of 2018 — I don’t see the level of commitment by voters seen in 2006 at this point. My thoughts may well change by Labor Day, but I think we all should take the blue wave hype with a grain of salt.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment