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Ryan Costello campaigns against cancel culture as he threatens to sue Twitter critics

Republicans mulling a Pennsylvania Senate run are navigating political lanes, some steering a Trumpian path, others not. Ryan Costello is driving on both sides of the cancel culture causeway.

Former U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Chester County Republican.
Former U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Chester County Republican.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Republicans mulling a U.S. Senate run next year are navigating political lanes, some steering a Trumpian path, others following a more traditional conservative course.

Ryan Costello appears to be driving on both sides of the cancel culture causeway.

The former congressman and Trump critic from Chester County got into a long-running social media skirmish this month with a progressive group that has spent years criticizing Sen. Pat Toomey, the Lehigh Valley Republican who is not seeking a third term next year.

That’s not surprising, given how much Costello has embraced the Twitter politics of never-ending culture-war grievances in recent months. (One recent post decried transgender women athletes as “cheating in women’s sports.”)

Tuesdays With Toomey, noting on Twitter that Costello is considering a Senate run, cited the clients he now lobbies for and criticized his work for Americans for Carbon Dividends in a way that he later said misrepresented the facts. Costello was further incensed that the group looped into the spat his alma mater, Ursinus College, where he speaks to students about public service.

He responded by calling Tuesdays With Toomey “complete trash,” which the group quickly weaponized as a hashtag and meme, wrapping the insult around his official congressional photo. While blocking some Twitter users — prompting more mockery — Costello also sent a private legal threat.

“Once I determine your identity through Twitter’s legal department you’ll be receiving a writ of summons,” Costello, a lawyer, wrote in a private message to one of the group’s organizers, citing a precursor to a lawsuit.

» READ MORE: Former Pennsylvania Republican congressman Ryan Costello is taking steps to run for Senate in 2022

Carolyn Stillwell, a Tuesdays With Toomey organizer, outed herself to Clout as the person Costello threatened. She hasn’t been hiding. She co-published an op-ed about Toomey in The Inquirer in September and has been quoted on behalf of the group three times since then.

Costello and Stillwell accuse each other of attempted intimidation.

“He spent the next 36 hours blocking people on Twitter,” Stillwell said of the group’s clash with Costello. “He got very upset about us tweeting and said it was cancel culture.”

She thinks that’s rich, coming from a politician threatening to sue her for tweeting.

Costello, who last month published an op-ed in the Washington Examiner decrying cancel culture, told Clout he’s not trying to cancel Stillwell or Tuesdays With Toomey. Instead, he said he’s holding her responsible for “harassing me online.”

“I’m just not going to be intimidated by them,” he said. “Or the fringe on the right. The best way to show independence is to take the harassment groups head-on.”

Stillwell’s response: “Instead of engaging with his potential constituents, he went straight to calling us trash, and he personally threatened me.”

The Coffee Can of Destiny vs. computer randomization

It’s time for that perennial Philly political question: Is the Coffee Can of Destiny charmingly odd or oddly antiquated?

District Attorney Larry Krasner and Carlos Vega, his challenger in the May 18 Democratic primary, took turns drawing bingo balls from an old Horn & Hardart coffee can Wednesday to determine ballot positions. In lower-profile races with several candidates, pulling a top ballot position can make all the difference.

In a nod to the pandemic and social distancing, election workers asked Krasner and Vega to wear gloves when they reached into the can, which was dangling from the end of a paint-roller extension pole. Vega drew first and took the top spot. Krasner joked about the air of anticipation as he drew second and took the second spot.

» READ MORE: More Clout: Josh Shapiro messes with Texas

The Coffee Can of Destiny has plenty of fans, but more than a few detractors.

Some think Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of State, which held a similar drawing for judicial candidates Wednesday in Harrisburg, place too much emphasis on luck in ballot draws.

State Rep. Chris Rabb, a Northwest Philadelphia Democrat, is reintroducing legislation requiring that voting machines be equipped with computer-generated randomization of candidates on ballots in all primary races with more than two candidates. A similar bill in 2019 gained 11 cosponsors — 10 Democrats, one Republican — but went nowhere in the GOP-controlled state House.

Clout wonders if anyone will be eager to embrace computer-generated anything in elections, given the massive mishmash of misinformation about voting systems in the 2020 presidential race.

Rabb’s retort: People still buy lottery tickets, generated and regulated by state computers. Clout’s losing Powerball ticket this week proves that right.

Reclaim Philadelphia takes a hard pass on Carlos Vega

Clout knew Vega had a tough sell on his hands, pitching himself to Reclaim Philadelphia as an agent of “real progressive reform.” Now we know Vega had zero chance of winning the progressive group’s endorsement.

Krasner took that prize, winning 296 out of 310 votes, the group announced Monday. Nine members voted for no endorsement and five abstained.

Vega, a career prosecutor now challenging Krasner in the Democratic primary, appeared with the incumbent in a March 6 Zoom meeting before the vote. But Reclaim, which endorsed Krasner in 2017 in the group’s first big win, actually didn’t even offer an option for members to vote for Vega.

The group said a steering committee had recommended Krasner for the endorsement, so it exercised an option to require at least 10 members to ask for the ability to vote for Vega. That didn’t happen.

Vega’s camp was undeterred by the snub.

“Carlos is trying to build a broad coalition and that means talking to everyone,” campaign manager Trevor Maloney said. “He’s not afraid to bring a pretty commonsense vision of this office to anyone who will listen to him.”

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.