Bruce L. Castor Jr. is proud to be from Montgomery County. He made that clear Tuesday during a meandering opening statement on the first day of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial that invoked Philadelphia and its suburbs at least a half-dozen times.
Unfortunately for Castor, a large swath of Montgomery County isn’t feeling so proud.
“Disappointing,” “bizarre,” and “distressing” were words used Wednesday by both Democrats and Republicans in the increasingly blue suburban Philadelphia county where Castor has for decades loomed large in political and legal circles.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Sharon Eisman, who’s from Maple Glen. “You know when you have those dreams where it’s, like, opening night and you never rehearsed and they throw you on stage? It was like watching that guy go through that in real time.”
Castor, the erstwhile district attorney who is now defending Trump, delivered a 50-minute speech on the U.S. Senate floor Tuesday that was widely panned by pundits and politicians for being seemingly unfocused on the issue at hand: the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. The perennial Republican political candidate took a folksy tack, recounting his time as a prosecutor and referring to the senators from Pennsylvania as friends.
While the performance reportedly left Trump yelling at the TV in frustration, Castor defended himself Wednesday, telling reporters at the Capitol who asked if the former president expressed displeasure: “far from it.”
“He is literally the only person that gave his performance a compliment yesterday,” said James Matthews, the former Republican Montgomery County commissioner who served alongside — and frequently sparred with — Castor. He said his former colleague may be reduced to a “punchline” and came across as arrogant. “The greatest sign of self-centeredness is when you don’t know your audience.”
Matthews, a self-described “Trump fan,” said he was initially hopeful when he heard the former president had tapped Castor to colead his defense team. Matthews called the trial a “clown show” and said Castor could have been persuasive with a purely constitutional argument.
He suggested Castor should have turned to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat presiding over the proceedings instead of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and said: “What are you doing here?”
Instead, Castor told stories of prosecuting homicides as district attorney — even accidentally introducing himself as “lead prosecutor” instead of “lead counsel.” He quoted Benjamin Franklin, saying “he’s my founding father, too,” and devolved into multiple long-winded asides.
Some Montgomery County residents who were watching said they were waiting for a pivot that never came. Tony Heyl, a Bridgeport councilmember who has worked in Montgomery County Democratic political circles for more than a decade, said it reminded him of professional wrestling: Hulk Hogan was famous for years for body-slamming his opponents, then one day switched gears out of nowhere, did a leg drop move, and “turned to the dark side,” Heyl said.
“Bruce Castor, he never made a heel turn,” he said. “He never turned to the Trump side.”
Catie Scott, a 29-year-old who grew up in North Wales and now lives in Philadelphia, said she was looking forward to watching Castor on the national stage, but the monologue “felt very stream of consciousness” and “was kind of spiraling downward.”
She said she did identify with Castor’s pride for his home county, a pride that she shares. But Scott, a former Republican who switched parties in 2016, is clear-eyed about how Castor was received by the nation: “If I had to pick a representative for Montgomery County, it wouldn’t have been that.”
Across the country, Eisman was watching Castor from her home in Los Angeles. The 45-year-old artist and producer who graduated from Upper Dublin High School had never heard of Castor before — that is, until she Googled him while he was speaking Tuesday and found out they share a home county.
She exhaled in disappointment, feeling oddly ashamed. While Eisman said she’s a Democrat, “this shame does not come from my party affiliation,” she said. “It just comes from poor lawyering from my hometown.”
Others were a bit more forgiving. David Keightly Sr., a Montgomery County-based attorney who worked in the district attorney’s office with Castor in the late 80s and early 90s, said his former colleague “was put in an almost impossible situation.”
Trump brought Castor onto his impeachment defense team less than two weeks before the Senate trial. The former president’s previous legal team parted ways with him, according to the Washington Post, after he insisted they focus their defense on his bogus assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.
Keightly said Castor’s performance didn’t comport with the Castor that he knew — someone who was “scary organized.”
“People are making a mistake beating up Bruce when it’s really all Trump’s fault,” he said. “Bruce gets a case of that magnitude a week before trial and he’s representing a loathsome, lying insurrectionist. Like, it’s not an easy position to be put in.”
Joseph M. Hoeffel, a Democrat and former congressman from Abington who served on the Montgomery County board of commissioners alongside Castor and Matthews, said Tuesday was clearly a “bad day” for Castor “and on a huge stage.”
“This wasn’t a Montgomery County jury in a criminal matter,” he said. “This is the U.S. Senate during the impeachment of a former president, and he did not meet the moment.”
But Castor has had a lengthy political life, proving several times he’s nothing if not resilient.
“He’s more talented than that,” Hoeffel said, “and frankly, I expect he will rebound next time he’s at the podium.”
Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.