In 1855, Abraham Lincoln voluntarily destroyed his best chances of becoming a U.S. Senator from Illinois. Even though multiple rounds of balloting showed Lincoln enjoyed the greatest support, the number of candidates caused a split vote that created an opening for pro-slavery “Douglas Democrats” to win the seat.
Lincoln eventually withdrew, putting his own self-interest behind that of the wider political cause.
Pennsylvania needs a Lincoln now.
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State Senator Doug Mastriano represents only a small portion of Republican voters in Pennsylvania, and an even smaller portion of Pennsylvania voters writ large. Yet, by any objective measure, he is on track to be a major party nominee for governor. At this late stage, who among the rest of the Republican candidates will be willing to temporarily sacrifice their own ambitions for the good of the commonwealth and the country?
Both the Senate and gubernatorial races have all the remarkable chaos inherent to the democratic process: nearly a dozen theoretically qualified candidates, an energized electorate, and what may end up being the most important statewide election in decades. When the dust settles, it looks like one candidate could win with a small minority of the votes, and that candidate could end up being a tremendous liability to his party and the people he aims to serve.
According to the current RealClearPolitics average of public polling, Mastriano leads the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination with 24 percent of the vote. The next closest candidates are former U.S. Congressman Lou Barletta, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and former Delaware County Councilman David White, in that order.
While the fact that many Republican voters claim to be undecided looms large, Mastriano has made a name for himself by strutting as an ideologically inflexible purist. He touts a populist nationalism that can attract enough of a crowd but has a ceiling.
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This is important because Mastriano is not capturing an emerging majority of the Republican electorate. He is not the far-right version of what we are seeing in the Democratic Senate primary, where our silver-spoon socialist Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman, is crushing his eminently electable opponent U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb in the polls. Indeed, that race truly does tell us something unsettling about the center of gravity in today’s Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Yet Mastrano is winning because he is running in his own lane. His closest polling opponents, Barletta, McSwain, and White, all have relatively similar and mainstream platforms that include comprehensive education reform, common sense energy and environmental policies, and valuing law and order and fiscal responsibility.
Mastriano has repeatedly demonstrated that he possesses neither the disposition nor the temperament to win this election or form a governing consensus. He has consistently alienated those that question his self-styled righteous indignation, as most recently evidenced by his bad behavior during a recent interview with Delaware Valley Journal, where he was reasonably asked to clarify his claims regarding the 2020 election.
This is not to say that Senator Mastriano is the caricature too often peddled by incumbent media interests in the commonwealth. His patriotism is evidenced by his military service. This publication has well documented the myriad problems with how the commonwealth administered the 2020 election. And while the senator was wrong to support the historic changes to the commonwealth’s election code that enabled many of these problems, he is right to provide a robust critique in retrospect and insist upon election reform.
Yet the fact remains, the ideologically erratic Mostriano is not capable of winning 50.1 percent of the vote. There are multiple candidates that would better represent the Republican Party, both as a matter of principle and practicality.
Are any candidates in the race today willing to step aside now and become Pennsylvania’s Lincoln?
So how did we get here? Why, a week away from the primary, has the field not been cleared for one or two electable Republicans who actually represent the views of a majority of the party’s voters?
Historically, it has been the party’s job to sort this type of thing out. In fact, this might be the only truly useful thing that political parties can still do unencumbered.
It’s not just that the Pennsylvania GOP has failed to coax candidates to make the kind of virtuous decisions that their paid consultants never would — egregiously, it chose to do absolutely nothing at all. The state committee failed to endorse any candidate for governor (or senator), leaving endorsements up to county or municipal party organizations, or no one at all.
Because the party — and those who inform its thinking — failed to choose between the mainstream, acceptable candidates, Mastriano is poised to win a primary and lose a general election in what is arguably the most favorable political environment for Republicans in a generation.
It is too late now to call upon the Republican party to remedy this situation. Indeed, it is likely too late to change a significant number of hearts and minds. Now, it is merely a matter of arithmetic.
Who then, can save the Pennsylvania GOP from Mastriano and defeat in the general election this fall?
When Lincoln removed himself from the 1855 Senatorial contest, he not only furthered the anti-slavery causes he held so dear; by putting the cause ahead of his own political aspirations, he won friends and allies that would help catapult him to the presidency in 1860.
If it worked for Lincoln, it could work for any of the electable candidates currently polling in the teens. But will any of them put their own aspirations aside to do what’s best for the state and the conservative movement by sparing both from a Doug Mastriano nomination? Are any candidates in the race today willing to step aside now and become Pennsylvania’s Lincoln?
Terry Tracy is President & CEO of Broad + Liberty.