The Pa. GOP hunts for its own Youngkin (or 2) | Will Bunch Newsletter
Plus, nearly all-white jury for Arbery’s killers brings back bad vibes of Old South
I’m writing this early on Monday evening and something weird is happening outside: It’s dark. The return of Eastern Standard Time is arguably the worst trade-off I’ve ever seen: One extra hour of Sunday morning sleep in return for days of debilitating 5 p.m. darkness? Really? Soon voters will blame President Biden for “darkness inflation.” Use your presidential pen, Mr. Biden, and stop the time-change insanity.
Did someone forward you this email? Sign up to receive this newsletter weekly at inquirer.com/bunch, and join me in casting a bright light on America’s problems.
Pa. GOP smells blood in 2022 water, but they want ‘Youngkins,’ not Trumpists
There’s no doubt that Pennsylvania Republicans smell blood in the water of the 2022 midterm elections after 2021′s off-year results, especially after GOP candidates secured a seat on the state Supreme Court, regained the governor’s mansion in Virginia, and even sent a scare into New Jersey’s progressive Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
The ink was still wet on Wednesday’s front pages as a bevy of new candidates planned announcements or weighed their options in the high-stakes races for the open seats of departing Gov. Wolf and Sen. Pat Toomey. These are contests with national implications for control of Capitol Hill and the next presidential race.
But the big dilemma for the Grand Old Party remains the same as it was before last week’s results: Will Democrats currently struggling to stay afloat in the red-stained midterm ocean get attacked by a couple of great white sharks, or a posse of clownfish? If there was any big takeaway from the 2021 election, it came from Glenn Youngkin’s solid victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, winning a state President Biden had carried by 10 percentage points just a year earlier.
Youngkin is a good-looking and sane-sounding multi-millionaire businessman who learned how to offer voters the red meat of Trumpism — sounding the right dog whistles on anti-racism education in schools — without the sloppy baggage of Donald Trump himself, which turns off some potential women voters.
In the Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial primary, where the number of candidates — mindful of the state’s half-century tradition of flipping parties in the governor’s mansion — has entered double-digits, three new candidates came forward late last week. One seems aiming for the Youngkin track: A Delaware County pol-turned businessman, Dave White. The second, state Senate powerhouse Jake Corman, is walking on the post-Trump high wire, offering Republican insider cred while willing to play along with bogus election-fraud conspiracy theories that animate the party’s Facebook-addled rural base.
The third newcomer — state Sen. Doug Mastriano from Franklin County in central Pennsylvania, who announced an exploratory committee — is a nightmare candidate for the Republican establishment, a Team Trump insider who roamed near the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, burned COVID-19 masks at a rally, and keeps close ties with the extreme right. If Mastriano could gain an endorsement from Mar-a-Lago, he’d have a real shot at next May’s nomination, and at alienating the suburban women who rejected Trump himself in 2020.
But the place where the Republican Party’s Pennsylvania anxieties are off the charts is the Senate race, which could determine the future of the now 50-50 divided chamber. Here, Trump entered the fray early with a speedy endorsement of Sean Parnell, a Bronze Star-winning veteran of the Afghanistan conflict who is close friends with his son Donald Trump Jr., and who echoed the Trump line in losing to western Pa. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb in 2020.
Trump’s endorsement of Parnell came just weeks before the candidate’s estranged wife testified in their child-custody battle that her husband had attempted to choke her and had hit their children, in a pattern of abusive behavior. Parnell is pushing back against the devastating allegations, and yet the case is just one of several instances in which the 45th president has backed candidates (like football star Herschel Walker in Georgia) whose heavy baggage around abuse or sexual misconduct is as bad or worse as his own history. Establishment Republicans must wake up in a cold sweat about how a Mastriano-Parnell ticket would run in upscale Chester County subdivisions.
Thus, the GOP’s reported new fixation on a Senate candidate who would be a Glenn Youngkin on steroids: Wall Street CEO David McCormick.
Politico reported the McCormick recruitment drive over the weekend. He’s such a perfect-on-paper Republican candidate that it almost seems as if he was invented just for the purpose of running in this election. A war hero and West Point grad with a Bronze Star (from the first Gulf War) just like Parnell’s, McCormick is a wrestling and football product of public high school in upstate Bloomsburg who still owns a farm there. He worked in the George W. Bush administration and, while not a deranged Trumpist, he does have ties to the ex-president through his wife Dina Powell, who was a security advisor to our 45th president. As CEO of Wall Street’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, he could throw millions of his own wealth into a campaign.
Sure, there are drawbacks — most notably the fact that McCormick’s career path has taken him to Connecticut, so in moving back to run for the Senate he’d be tagged as a “carpetbagger.” More problematic is that it’s not clear if McCormick would give up such a lucrative job for the slings and arrows of Pennsylvania politics.
Democrats — for all their structural and historical challenges going into 2022 — are putting their best foot forward with Attorney General Josh Shapiro a lock for the gubernatorial nod and a strong Senate field, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has already raised $10 million, a lot from small donors. But Republicans haven’t found their footing yet. As Virginia showed, wealthy, self-funding business leaders with no dirty laundry and a soft “culture war” pitch looks like a winning formula for the GOP — if its primary voters don’t send in the clowns.
Yo, do this
Slate’s Slow Burn, one of the podcastosphere’s best running shows, is back in tip-top form with its new season on the Rodney King beating and the 1992 Los Angeles uprising that ensued when King’s police assailants were found not guilty. It’s a bit of history that feels more timely than ever in the post-George Floyd era. It’s also a bit jarring to remember how shocking this all was — a police beating, captured by a citizen’s camcorder?! — just 30 years ago. I’m really looking forward to the next seven episodes.
If you love music and remember the 1990s, you may recall the magic moment mid-decade when the great alt-country band Son Volt dropped its masterpiece Trace, a reminder that even nearing its old age rock and roll had some new tricks. The band and its whiskey-voiced lead singer Jay Farrar have never stopped plugging away, and their new, slow-burn single “Livin’ in the USA” is both a plea for American empathy and a screed that “we’ve all got fossil fuel lungs while we run out the clock.” A bona fide protest song at a moment when there’s more things than ever to protest. Listen to it here.
Ask me anything
Question: I know you like [John] Fetterman, but [who] comes out on top in the primary ….[Rep. Conor] Lamb or Fetterman — Via Brad Wesley @RealBradWesley on Twitter
Answer: The 2022 Democratic U.S. Senate primary between Lt. Gov. Fetterman, Lamb, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Montgomery County official Val Arkoosh is starting to heat up, for sure. Maybe that’s because Fetterman revealed that he’s raised $10 million since announcing his candidacy. Fetterman’s small-donor base, his larger-than-life persona including an in-your-face Twitter feed, and statewide name recognition is pressuring rivals to make their move. Thus, Lamb’s desperation tweet on Monday: “If you want a Senator who runs as a Socialist, feeds the GOP attack ads, & didn’t help with infrastructure, I’M NOT YOUR GUY.” The center-right Lamb sounds like he’s running to be the next Joe Manchin, not to win over left-leaning primary voters. Good luck with that, Conor.
PS: Avid readers of this newsletter know that I am always looking for questions for the Ask Me Anything section. Send me an email with your questions and it could be featured in a future newsletter. Also, I promise to respond to you personally!
I grew up just in time to see the tail end of the dramatic civil rights fights of the 1960s, and one image from that era has always stayed with me: That of the Old South jury — a gaggle of 12 back-slapping white men, sipping their cola or chomping a cigar, laughing among themselves as they acquitted stone-cold race murderers in a matter of minutes. The archetype for this bastion of Jim Crow white supremacy was the jury that heard the case of two Mississippi men who murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black Chicago youth visiting family who somehow triggered a white woman inside a store. Till’s 1955 killing launched the civil rights era.
The risk of a guilty verdict for the all-white, all-male jury tasked with justice in the Till case was presented starkly to them by one of the killers’ defense lawyers: “Your ancestors will turn over in their grave, and I’m sure every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.” The warning probably wasn’t needed. Laughter was heard from the jury room before the panel came back in just 67 minutes with its “not guilty” verdict. Said one juror: “We wouldn’t have taken so long if we hadn’t stopped to drink pop.”
For more than a century, Southern segregationists systematically excluded Black people from juries, despite efforts beginning with the overturned Civil Rights Act of 1875 and then a series of Supreme Court decisions as recently as 1985 to end this racist practice. Nevertheless, it persists in the 21st Century — as evidenced by last week’s jarring news that the jury in the Georgia case of three white men accused of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in early 2020 will include only one African American, in a city that’s 55% Black and a county that’s 27% Black. Defense lawyers cited common Black viewpoints or experiences as proof of “bias,” to strike a dozen would-be African American jurors. It’s time for American society and our lawmakers figure out how to end this baloney. Sixty-six years later, Emmett Till’s jurors are looking up from their fiery depository and laughing again — at us.
Inquirer reading list
The results of last Tuesday’s election — a not-horrendous night for Democrats nationally, but not a great one either — have weighed on my mind. In my Sunday column, I took a deep dive into what felt like the most important stat from Republican Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial win in Virginia: that he vastly outperformed Donald Trump with white, non-college women, even as Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran stronger than Biden with their diploma-earning peers. I argued the moment spoke to the growing insecurity of a class of women who look to “whiteness,” rather than educational attainment, for social status.
Speaking of the great American “culture war,” I wrote over the weekend that we’ve seen time and time again how cultural anxieties trump economic concerns for white working-class voters, a lesson that Democratic Party leaders simply refuse to absorb. I laid out a blueprint for how Democrats can stop running away from the culture war and instead fight it to win — by emphasizing deeply shared American values like opposition to book banning, support for science and for education in general, and an emphasis on voting rights that will re-cement bonds with Black and brown voters.
Thankfully, the climate crisis has been in the news more than usual over the last week, due to the COP 26 summit still ongoing in Glasgow, Scotland. One part of the story that has gotten short shrift, however, is the growing wave of young protesters both in Scotland and here in the United States, including those who went on a hunger strike hoping to force the “grown-ups” to speed up the end of fossil fuels. The Inquirer’s Justine McDaniel published a deep profile of a 20-year-old hunger striker with Philadelphia roots, Abby Leedy. It only confirmed my deeply held belief that these young people are heroes. Imagine a Philadelphia where no one knew about young activists like Leedy, and you’d be imagining Philadelphia without The Inquirer. Help us shine a light on the next generation of civic leaders, by subscribing today.