Republicans Chet Beiler, a Manheim businessman, and state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, of West Lampeter Township, are squaring off in the 16th Congressional District Republican primary. The winner will face Lancaster Democrat Christina Hartman in the November election to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, who is retiring after 10 terms in office.
Politics, so the saying goes, ain’t beanbag.
And we get that. When a candidate runs for office — especially national office — there’s a lot at stake: power, position and the opportunity to do big things.
But this year, our politics have gone way beyond hardball to harsh, dark and cynical.
We have presidential candidates calling each other names — “Lyin’ Ted,” for instance, and “sniveling coward” — that conjure up politics in the days when political opponents called Martin Van Buren “Martin Van Ruin” and “a first-rate second-rate man.”
And in the 16th Congressional District Republican primary race, we have state Sen. Lloyd Smucker and Chet Beiler trading attacks that are so ferocious they may leave you queasy.
“Friends of Chet Beiler” sent out mailers accusing “career politician Lloyd Smucker” of acting to “undermine border security and our immigration laws.”
“Does he really deserve a promotion to Congress?” the mailer asked.
Smucker sent out one mailer describing Beiler as a “three-time loser for political office” who employs “fear tactics” and “dirty tricks,” and another claiming, “Chet Beiler will do anything and is lying about Lloyd Smucker.”
In a television ad that began airing earlier this month, Smucker’s campaign raises the specter of “Votergate,” Beiler’s violation of Pennsylvania election law 15 years ago.
Beiler “wants to serve the community,” declares the 30-second ad. “Truth is, Beiler’s already performed community service. Fifty days’ worth for election fraud.”
Yikes. Beiler was charged with one count of solicitation of registrations under the state elections code. He was accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program
For his part, Beiler’s advertisements have portrayed Smucker as too “liberal” to represent the 16th district. Beiler’s campaign also clearly is paying to get an attack site at the top of Google search results for Lloyd Smucker.
“Honestly, they’re Lancaster County Republicans. … They’re both solid conservatives at the end of the day,” Kyle Kopko, professor of political science at Elizabethtown College, told LNP in a news article that appeared last Sunday.
Kopko said he’s “actually been taken aback by how negative” the Smucker-Beiler race has been.
We are, too. And we understand why some Lancaster County residents have taken to social media to complain about the negative mailers cluttering their mailboxes, and the more than $110,000 worth of negative ads filling their TV screens.
Charles Greenawalt, a Millersville University professor of government and political affairs, told LNP that the Smucker-Beiler contest personifies “much of the struggle nationwide.”
The Republican presidential primary has taken on the tenor of a professional wrestling match, as the candidates from the party of Lincoln vie to grab media attention — Ohio Gov. John Kasich excepted — by saying more and more outrageous things.
Amid the din last week, however, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan made a pitch for a different kind of politics.
“Our political discourse — both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other — did not used to be this bad and it does not have to be this way,” Ryan told a bipartisan group of congressional interns on Wednesday.
“Ideas, passionately promoted and put to the test — that’s what politics can be. ... All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and decency.”
In an America in which political leaders “have a basic faith in one another,” Ryan said, “We question each other’s ideas — vigorously — but we don’t question each other’s motives. If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea.”
His speech is worth reading in full. They include his apology for not always characterizing people — he regretfully cites his “makers” vs. “takers” language — as he believes he should have.
Like Speaker Ryan, we hope for a better way.