So, President Donald Trump’s holding a rally in Michigan on Thursday. The start of a “Total Vindication Tour” that just might come to Pennsylvania?
Michigan makes sense. As does Pennsylvania. Both gave Trump narrow 2016 wins critical to his election. Both are key to his reelection odds.
And “total vindication” — whether you believe it or not, whether it holds or not — is the message of the moment. Maybe even the 2020 cycle.
To say Republican leaders here are pumped by results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year probe — no collusion, insufficient evidence of obstruction of justice — is to understate their elation.
“The response I’m getting from the field is: We’re feeling great,” says state GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio.
It fires up the base, lights up fundraising, and plays into Trump’s narrative that he’s under constant attack by elements of a “deep state” out to protect the status quo.
“I hope" for a victory tour, DiGiorgio says, “I want the president in Pennsylvania as much as possible. I’d love to have him in the southwest, where there’s a special state Senate election April 2.”
This is for the seat of former State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, south and west of Pittsburgh. Reschenthaler, a Republican, was elected to Congress last November.
The race features Republican D. Raja, a tech firm founder and Allegheny County GOP chairman, and Democrat Pam Iovino, who spent 23 years in the Navy prior to serving as assistant secretary of veterans affairs.
There are three other special elections scheduled to coincide with the May 21 Municipal Primary Election.
One is for an open seat in the 12th Congressional District, covering more than a dozen counties in central and north-central Pennsylvania.
It was held by former GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, who resigned in January for a job in the private sector. The candidates are Penn State assistant prof Marc Friedenberg, a Democrat who has run before, and State Rep. Fred Keller (R., Union).
And there are two more special state Senate elections for seats in south-central and western Pennsylvania.
DiGiorgio expects Mueller’s findings to be a big positive for Republicans now and in 2020. And he says if the Dem-controlled House presses to reinvestigate Trump on issues covered by Mueller, “Democrats will pay for it at the polls.”
Democratic leaders, no surprise, don’t see it that way.
“I can’t believe they feel they need a victory lap because they were not found guilty of colluding with Russia,” says Democratic state party chief Nancy Patton Mills.
She concedes current optics are a plus for Trump, but she isn’t buying a carryover effect in upcoming special elections or in 2020. And she points to significant Democratic gains in 2018 for Congress and both state legislative chambers (though both remain GOP-controlled).
“We ran our races one district at a time. Not against Trump,” she says. “Republicans try to nationalize races. We stress each district and the state. And for 2020, we’ll still talk about what concerns Pennsylvanians. … That’s going to make a difference.”
Other Democrats discount the Mueller effect due to the here-then-gone nature of today’s politics.
State Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa of Pittsburgh, for example, says that’s why Mueller’s findings won’t have a major impact on state voters.
“I just think the president’s actions and activities will continue to be as objectionable as they have been,” says Costa, “The way he treats folks, his recent treatment of [the late] John McCain. Those are things people remember.”
But Republican consultant Christopher Nicholas says one reason Mueller is immediate good news for Republicans is that special elections not held in conjunction with regularly scheduled elections, such as the April 2 contest, don’t draw turnout. Mueller, in this case, might change that — in favor of the GOP.
There are, you’ll recall, other issues facing Trump. Investigations into his finances, his business, and that pesky stuff about hush money to two women to cover up alleged extramarital affairs. And, of course, the full contents of Mueller’s report remain unseen.
Still, no denying Trump’s in a good place.
“I hope it gets Republicans excited,” says Nicholas, “Question is, is this a sustained boost or just a quick sugar high? And does the president start another imbroglio?”