House leaders

Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bryan Cutler speaks during a news Conference in the capitol Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Cutler is joined at the news conference by the 2021-22 House Republican leadership team.

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s supporters storming the U.S. Capitol and state GOP pols defending his months-long campaign to reverse the election outcome, the Pennsylvania Republican Party faces turmoil, chaos and an indefinite recovery period that may put the governor’s and U.S. Senate races out of reach in 2022, says a political scientist who is also a loyal Republican.

“I see a party marred by internal battles. I think there will be chaos, to tell you the truth,” said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, southwest of Pittsburgh, and a member of Republican State Committee.

Three or more factions may scramble for dominance of the GOP: conservatives, Trumpers and moderates. Ultimately, DiSarro believes the party will return to being “(Ronald) Reagan conservative,” but how long it takes to get there and to rebound from the horrendous scenes on TV from the Capitol insurrection remain to be seen. DiSarro does not see a third party for Trump supporters.

“What happened in D.C. is an attack on the moral foundation of the Republican Party,” DiSarro said.

The FBI is warning about the potential for more attacks in Washington and the 50 state capitals from Saturday through Presidentelect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

Democratic wedge issue

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania House Democratic leaders pledged to hold Republicans accountable — from Washington to Harrisburg — claiming they stoked the fires for the riot last week. Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, of Philadelphia, said she was referring to “extremist lawmakers.”

Blaming “seditious lies” about the 2020 election voiced by members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Democratic leaders also cited actions by Republican legislators to “suppress the vote” through lawsuits, banning ballot drop boxes and seeking to allow out-of-county residents to serve as poll watchers. Asked for names, Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, hinted that names of such Republican lawmakers would be released next week, but it is not clear how he will do so.

House Democrats “talked a lot about needing unity and making sure we understand words matter,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Republicans. “However, their only answer today seemed to be to create more division with political hyperbole.”

Still a grand ol’ party

House Republicans control the agenda in Harrisburg, a position strengthened by a November election that, Trump’s loss aside, was one of the most successful in years for the Pennsylvania GOP. The party defeated Democratic incumbents to capture two statewide row offices, expanded their House and Senate majorities, ended a Democratic

House leader’s three-decade political career, and held off an onslaught of top-tier challengers in congressional races.

“The Republican Party is alive and well,” said Allegheny County GOP chairman Sam DeMarco.

As time passes and passions cool, DeMarco said he believes the fringe will no longer be the loudest voice in the party heading into 2022. Judicial elections this year will help Republicans focus on the attainable, as GOP messengers use what they see as overreach by a Democratic judiciary in election cases to rally party members around more traditional messages of limited government and the proper role of the legislative branch.

DeMarco also said he believes Democrats in control of the federal government will overplay their hands, enacting liberal legislation that will drive some of the centrist voters who were repulsed by Trump to return to the GOP.

“The Republican party is a bigtent party,” DeMarco said. “I believe we can come together.”

Standard bearer?

A key question is: Around whom will Pennsylvania’s Republican voters rally?

While the Democrats have the formidable pair of Attorney General Josh Shapiro to run for governor and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to run for Senate in 2022, Republicans “don’t have a superstar,” said Randall Miller, professor emeritus of history at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is completing his second and final term, while Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey decided not to run for reelection.

Miller and DiSarro agree that so much can change in the coming year to boost GOP prospects in 2022.

Still, many Republican candidates, whether they attended the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol attack or repeatedly encouraged and defended Trump’s false claims of election fraud, must square that record with Pennsylvania voters, Miller said. Republicans— as Ricky Ricardo is remembered telling Lucy — “will have some ‘splaining’ to do,” Miller said, referencing the 1950s TV show, “I Love Lucy.”

It’s especially true for elected officials “all in” on Trump, who face “a huge political liability if they run for statewide office,” Miller said. It’s different in some congressional and legislative districts in bright red counties, where continued support of Trump even after he leaves office may be the key to reelection.

The biggest problem for Republican candidates is Republican suburban women voters in the Philly collar counties “who are open to Democratic candidates,” Miller said.

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