Pat Toomey is facing a Republican backlash in Pennsylvania for voting to convict Donald Trump
The sharp criticism of a long-serving conservative senator underscores how loyalty to Trump has become an overriding litmus test in the GOP.
Pennsylvania Republicans are heaping condemnation on Sen. Pat Toomey after their GOP senator voted to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, signaling how fealty to the former president has come to define the party.
Republican state party chairman Lawrence Tabas has advised committee members that he will soon call a meeting to “address and consider actions related to the impeachment vote.” Though the notice didn’t specifically mention Toomey, four party insiders said Monday that there’s growing momentum behind a push to censure the senator.
County parties across the state are already doing so.
“The York County Republican Committee condemns, in the strongest terms, the actions of United States Senator Patrick Joseph Toomey, Jr. for his failure to defend the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees,” read one censure resolution, passed Saturday before Toomey even voted to convict Trump.
It was approved because Toomey voted to proceed with the trial in the first place, with many Republicans arguing it’s unconstitutional to try a former president.
“It was overwhelming. There was no debate,” said Jeff Piccola, the York County Republican chairman and a former state senator. “They were cheering when they were voting and when the resolution was being read. It bubbled up from beneath, it wasn’t my idea.”
Similar resolutions have been approved or are expected far and wide, including in Cambria, Lancaster, Centre, and Northampton Counties. Even in Chester County — where Joe Biden defeated Trump by 17 percentage points — the local GOP is considering voting to censure Toomey at its meeting on Tuesday. “Senator Toomey has violated the trust of his voters...and neglected his duty to represent the party and the will of the people who elected him to represent them,” reads a draft resolution.
“Most of Western Pennsylvania and the ‘T’ are planning on it or have done it,” said Jackie Kulback, chair of the Cambria County GOP, referring to the mostly rural and deeply conservative T-shaped swath in the state’s center, Northeast, and Northwest corners.
The sharp criticism of a long-serving senator who has pushed his party rightward on policy and supported the vast majority of Trump’s initiatives underscores how loyalty to the former president has become an overriding litmus test in the GOP. It suggests Trump will continue to loom over the party as it looks ahead to 2022 campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.
And it comes after Toomey has absorbed years of liberal criticism for being too supportive of Trump.
“He has been conservative, but we just never really felt that he was behind the president,” Kulback said. “This was the final straw.”
Toomey, who is not seeking reelection next year, has spent decades pushing conservative fiscal policies in the U.S. House, while leading the conservative lobbying group the Club for Growth, and as a senator who ran as the true conservative alternative to the late Sen. Arlen Specter — whom Toomey chased out of the party for being too moderate.
He supported Trump in both 2016 and 2020 — though Toomey refused to endorse him until the final hours of the 2016 campaign, and at times criticized the president’s rhetoric. Still, he voted with Trump roughly 85% of the time, according to the website FiveThirtyEight. Toomey wrote much of Trump’s signature tax bill and key parts of the president’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
As the head of the Club for Growth, Toomey wrote a 2008 Wall Street Journal column titled “In Defense of RINO Hunting,” referring to “Republicans In Name Only.”
Now some in Pennsylvania are slapping that label on him.
“He was never a Trump fan,” said Lee Snover, chair of the Northampton County GOP, who pointed to Toomey’s reluctance to endorse Trump in 2016, when the senator himself was on the ballot.
Censure resolutions have little practical effect, especially since Toomey is not seeking reelection, but they show the weight of the impeachment vote among rank-and-file Republicans.
Toomey was the only Pennsylvania Republican in Congress who supported the second impeachment. And he stood firmly against Trump and much of the GOP’s last-ditch attempt to throw out Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes. Eight of the state’s nine Republican House members supported the move on the very day of the riot.
Toomey, who opposed Trump’s first impeachment, was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict him Saturday in the most bipartisan rebuke ever of a president. But 43 GOP senators voted to acquit — arguing either that it’s unconstitutional to try a former president, or that there was no link between Trump’s actions and the Capitol violence.
Toomey, however, blamed Trump for “dishonest, systematic attempts” to convince his voters he had won the 2020 election, and for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
“His betrayal of the Constitution and his oath of office required conviction,” Toomey said Saturday. “Had he accepted the outcome of the election, acknowledged defeat, and cooperated with a peaceful transfer, then he’d be celebrated for a lot of the accomplishments that he deserves credit for. Instead, he’ll be remembered throughout history as the president who resorted to nonlegal steps to try to hold on to power.”
He acknowledged that most Republicans would disagree with his vote and said Trump had “some terrific successes.”
“Those things can be true and it can also be true that his behavior after the election became completely unacceptable,” Toomey said.
Aides contacted for this story pointed back to those comments Monday. Other Republicans who voted to convict Trump have faced similarly swift backlash.
Some Republicans said condemnation of Toomey was a long time coming. They bristled at his push, starting after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, to expand background checks for gun purchases, and many remembered his reluctance to support Trump in 2016.
“Combined with his previous attacks on America’s Second Amendment, [Toomey] continues to use the Republican banner while actively working against conservative values, principles, and elected Republicans in public office,” a Centre County GOP censure resolution said.
And while he supported the vast majority of Trump’s policies, Toomey clashed with the president on free trade, opposing Trump’s tariffs and sticking to the traditional conservative support of open markets.
On trade, Trump “changed a lot of the positions of many people in the Republican Party, me for one,” said Piccola, of York County.
“I think Pat Toomey is a globalist,” said Snover, of Northampton.
Other Republicans, notably those from more moderate parts of the state, were uneasy with the scorn directed his way. Some worry that hewing to Trump’s political brand is a route to electoral disaster, especially if the party continues bleeding in the vote-rich suburbs.
While Toomey and Trump both faced voters in 2016, Toomey did far better in the suburbs. Trump excelled in more rural and postindustrial areas, which now appear to form the core of Republican backing.
“If Pat Toomey did what he did, he did it because he thought it through thoroughly. It’s a conscience issue for him,” said Alan Novak, a former state GOP chairman from Chester County. “Pat Toomey represented the Republican Party exactly the way we wanted him to when he was in the Senate, a real policy-driven, policy wonk, problem-solving kind of guy.”
Toomey, who had been considering a run for governor, announced in October that he would not run for any office when his Senate term ends.
That threw wide open the races for Senate and governor and created a vacuum that amplified questions about what the Pennsylvania GOP will look like and stand for going forward. These early indications suggest that Trump, and support for Trump, remain vital.