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Pat Toomey didn’t change in his 12 years as a senator. The GOP did.

As Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey enters his final weeks in office, his shifting role within the Republican Party reflects how the GOP has changed around him.

Pat Toomey was livid.

It was a rare state for the understated Republican senator from Pennsylvania, but it was after 10 p.m. Jan. 6, 2021, and the Capitol was marked by smears of blood and shards of glass.

“We saw bloodshed, because a demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans,” Toomey said on the Senate floor.

His speech was one of the sharpest any Republican delivered that night against then-President Donald Trump, and it carried extra weight because of Pennsylvania’s central role in the fiasco. It was one of two states (along with Arizona) that faced a formal attempt to disqualify its presidential votes.

“I was furious,” Toomey recalled in a November interview in his Capitol Hill office. “I was furious with Trump for having contributed so much to the environment and the circumstances that gave rise to it. I was furious that he didn’t do anything to stop it when he could have early on. I was furious that people were trying to prevent my state from being able to participate in the Electoral College.”

Toomey had voted for Trump twice but, he added: “Who I voted for isn’t what’s important. What’s important is, who did my state vote for? And I had an absolute responsibility to defend that outcome. … To be silent would be complicit.”

That night opened the final chapter of Toomey’s public career, one that began with his own push to pull the Republican Party further rightward, saw him play a leading role crafting conservative economic policy, and ended with the senator, in some respects, as an outlier on the right after he broke with a president who had reshaped the GOP.

Toomey, 61, has held consistent views. But as he enters his final weeks in office, his shifting role within the GOP reflects how the party has changed around him.

He arrived in the Senate in 2011 as part of a new wave of Republicans pledging to be more faithful to conservative doctrine, particularly on economic issues.

He spent more than a decade building a deeply conservative voting record, and as one of the country’s leading advocates for lower taxes and unrestrained capitalism. But Toomey’s cerebral approach, with his measured rhetoric, personal decency, and arguments about marginal rates, budget arcana, and regulatory rules, ran headlong into a GOP that has become more focused on populist combativeness.

He didn’t seek reelection this year, and in January will be replaced by Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. It will be the first time Pennsylvania will have two Democratic senators since 2010, after longtime Republican Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties — to avoid a primary challenge from Toomey.

“When he came in … in many ways he represented the core of the Republican Party,” said Chris Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College. Some asked whether Toomey was too conservative for a swing state.

But now, Toomey’s tenor, and views on trade and business, may represent a fading wing of the GOP. He was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump in the impeachment trial after Jan. 6.

“His 12 years from where he started to where he ends in the party is really a fascinating era,” Borick said. “He really bookends it.”

A complex legacy

In an era of political caricatures, Toomey defies easy categorization. He was a consequential figure, on both policy and politics.

Despite his personal decorum, some Democrats say he contributed to Congress’ partisan acrimony. As head of the free-market political group the Club for Growth before he became a senator, Toomey fought to replace moderate Republicans with more staunch fiscal conservatives in the years leading up to the 2010 tea party wave, when Toomey himself was elected.

He once wrote a Wall Street Journal column titled “In defense of RINO hunting,” referring to “Republicans In Name Only.” Yet after his impeachment vote the Senate Conservatives Fund, which once backed Toomey, slapped the RINO label on him.

“When you have empowered the extreme, and undermined the moderates, don’t be surprised when the extreme goes in directions that are even more extreme than you are,” said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic strategist who worked on Joe Sestak’s 2010 campaign against Toomey. “I look at his legacy as unquestionably swinging Republican politics, and Pennsylvania Republican politics, to the right.”

Yet Balaban acknowledged that Toomey’s efforts — focused on policy debates where the parties have long disagreed — differ from the cultural grievances and disregard for democratic rules that drive Trump and his imitators. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Toomey didn’t go to Washington just to burn it down from the inside.

Toomey says that although compromise is sometimes necessary, his goal was advancing the most conservative economic agenda possible, including through primary challenges.

“When I was at the Club for Growth and prior to that, there were Republicans who would claim to espouse free-market economic principles but then wouldn’t actually vote accordingly,” he said. “Limited government and economic freedom is a core, really important value for the center-right coalition that the Republican Party represents.”

His focus on fiscal policies with a businesslike demeanor twice won close races in a swing state. He’s the most electorally successful Republican in recent Pennsylvania history, Borick said. But much of the GOP has gone in a different direction, as evidenced by the party’s nomination of the election-denying Doug Mastriano for governor this year (an office some thought Toomey might seek).

Once Toomey leaves office, just one Republican senator will be left in the Northeast: Maine’s Susan Collins, a moderate who campaigned for him in 2016.

» READ MORE: Pat Toomey announces he won’t run for reelection or for Pennsylvania governor

But as Toomey heads into political retirement, he says he’s optimistic about the GOP’s future. And despite Toomey’s misgivings, Trump’s presidency helped the senator achieve some of his most prized accomplishments.

‘A smart dude’

On a long day of debate in December 2017, Toomey spent hours at his dark wooden desk on the wing of the Senate chamber, with a stack of papers piled in front of him.

Republicans were inching closer to approving a sweeping set of tax cuts, a culmination of Toomey’s public career. As Democrats came to the floor to attack the bill, Toomey stood to respond, one-by-one.

His core mission, he told The Inquirer, was to maximize economic growth.

“We create the most opportunity for the most people to have the most prosperity,” he said. In a state as big and diverse as Pennsylvania, “everybody benefits if we have a stronger economy.”

» READ MORE: 'I've wanted to do this for 20 years': GOP tax bill a landmark for Pa. Sen. Pat Toomey

Toomey began his career as a derivatives trader before opening a small chain of sports bars in the Allentown area. He was a House member for six years, came up short in his first run against Specter, and then led the Club for Growth.

When he won a Senate seat, he was quickly appointed to a major committee on debt reduction, a plum position for anyone, let alone a freshman, and a sign of quick influence on fiscal issues.

“He’s one of a handful of the brightest members I’ve served with,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in an interview. “When it comes to economic matters, when Pat has something to say, everybody listens.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) clashed with Toomey on policy but said, “He’s a smart dude.”

Toomey, seemingly always in suits with crisp shirts and ties, had a skill for distilling deep policy knowledge into precise, succinct arguments. He has a rare enthusiasm for details about “CapEx” (shorthand for capital expenditures), cryptocurrency, and initial public offerings.

“He is one of our best and most authoritative voices on anything having to do with economics or finance, and on tax reform he was indispensable,” said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

Toomey was usually unyielding on economic policy. He opposed many government protections, including the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Dodd-Frank banking regulations imposed after the 2008 financial crisis.

In his final months in office, he single-handedly held up a bill to aid veterans exposed to toxic burn pits over fears it could open a back door to unrelated defense spending.

"He’s one of a handful of the brightest members I’ve served with.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell

He often took big swings that gave him a key role in national debates, including writing some of the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pushing the Senate to go further in cutting Medicaid than even some fellow Republicans wanted.

“I have a very conservative voting record, I don’t apologize for that,” Toomey said. “That’s who I always have been, and I never misled the voters about that.”

McConnell called him “the most conservative [senator] that I’ve served with from Pennsylvania.”

When asked about his proudest moment, the tax bill was the first thing Toomey mentioned.

He points to the pre-pandemic drop in unemployment and rise in wages that followed the bill’s passage, saying it resulted in “the strongest economy of my lifetime.”

Democrats and liberal critics, though, say that bill, and most of Toomey’s policies, left behind working-class people.

“One gets the sense that Sen. Toomey represents a really very narrow range of interests, which mostly involve corporations and rich people,” said Neil Kohl, one of the Tuesdays with Toomey protesters who have demonstrated outside the senator’s Philadelphia office weekly since his 2016 reelection.

He and other critics bristle at descriptions of Toomey as moderate, saying his mild personality twisted perceptions of his record.

“I don’t think he really cared about whole swaths of the commonwealth,” said State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia). “Maybe he’s interpersonally a nice guy. Great, that’s wonderful. That has nothing to do with the policies he pursues.”

The long-run impact of the tax bill has been distorted by the coronavirus pandemic that struck in 2020, and the resulting economic shocks and stimulus spending. While Toomey says it will be proven successful over time, economists said the cuts didn’t produce a significant, immediate change in the trajectory of the economy (which was already growing) and they added to the federal deficit.

Still, several Democrats who disagreed with Toomey’s philosophy said they respected that he had a set of principles and honestly argued for them.

“The people of Pennsylvania knew what his beliefs were when he ran for the Senate,” former Gov. Ed Rendell said. “I disagree with the policy choices he made. But I believe he made them for sincere reasons.”

A stunning compromise

Toomey’s focus on fiscal policy made April 10, 2013, all the more surprising.

He and Sen. Joe Manchin stood on a low stage at the U.S. Capitol. With the country still reeling from the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting four months earlier in Newtown, Conn., Toomey and the conservative Democrat from West Virginia were cosponsoring a bill to expand background checks nationwide.

It was a stunning move, but maybe a politically savvy one for a Republican in a moderate swing state.

The bill failed, blocked by Republicans and a handful of Democrats. Some Democrats complain that Toomey failed to win over new Republican support. And he opposed other proposals, such as calls to ban assault weapons. But gun-safety groups hailed the moment as an important step: a conservative Republican standing up for at least some tougher gun laws.

“Sen. Toomey deservedly gets a lot of credit for taking a real leadership role on this issue, particularly when so few other Republican senators were,” said Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, the gun-control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

His stand set in motion the shift that led to the bipartisan law passed last summer, she said.

» READ MORE: Senate rejects Toomey-Manchin gun bill; 'Shameful day,' says Obama

Toomey at times used shrewd tactics to jam up ideas he opposed. He often voted against bills that would have prevented or ended government shutdowns or other fiscal crises, usually calling for more spending restraints.

And he joined the partisan street fight over the Supreme Court, blockading Democratic nominee Merrick Garland in the final year of President Barack Obama’s second term and then voting to confirm Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett days before the 2020 election.

Yet Democrats say they could work with him.

“I’ve always found Sen. Toomey, found Pat, to be a straight shooter, somebody who, you know, he’ll let you know where he disagrees and where he agrees, and where we can agree, we’ve been able to find common ground,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.). “He is somebody who, in my experience, has always kept his word.”

Toomey noted that over his 12 years in office, he and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) helped get more District Court judges seated in Pennsylvania than were confirmed in any other state except California and Texas. They had an arrangement to present bipartisan slates to Obama, Trump, and President Joe Biden.

“That was not easy,” Casey said. “In the business we’re in, so to speak, there are lots of ways to engage in kind of what you might call eye-poking … and we both tried not to do that between the two of us.”

The changing Trump era

Toomey rarely, if ever, attacked opponents, the media, or critics in inflammatory terms.

Instead, when he won his second and final Senate term in 2016, he appealed to the moderate suburbs by touting his background-check bill and promising to be a “constructive” and “independent voice” whether Trump or Hillary Clinton won.

» READ MORE: From 2015: Toomey on the trail: Republican senator gears up for a high-stakes year

Toomey refused to say whether he’d support Trump until just hours before polls closed on Election Day.

Toomey won Bucks and Chester Counties, making him the last major Republican to hold his own in suburbs that have since trended sharply against the GOP. It showed how he made his style of conservatism palatable to moderate voters.

“He saved most of his energies, I think, for those fiscal and economic battles that don’t tend to draw the same type of emotional responses and animosity,” Borick said.

When Trump won that year, though, Toomey supported nearly all of the president’s nominees and policies — most of which mirrored his longtime beliefs. (Though when Trump significantly shifted the GOP line by embracing protectionism, Toomey stayed firm, leaving him an often lonely voice in favor of free trade.)

He voted to acquit Trump in the president’s first impeachment trial and supported his reelection, saying his policies had the country on the right track.

» READ MORE: How Pat Toomey and Trump diverged on their paths to victory

But Toomey at times was a rare Republican who criticized Trump’s implicit, or explicit, racism. He condemned Trump’s waffling over “both sides” of the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., and spoke out against the president’s tweet in 2019 saying four Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back” to other countries even though only one was born outside of the United States.

“The citizenship of all four is as valid as mine,” Toomey said in a statement at the time.

Then came an extraordinary attempt to overturn the election results, with a bull’s-eye on Pennsylvania. While most congressional Republicans in the state supported Trump’s lies or nodded toward them, Toomey acknowledged Biden as the rightful winner and denounced attempts to change the result.

“Somebody in my position had an obligation to stand up and tell the truth,” Toomey told The Inquirer.

» READ MORE: Republican Sen. Pat Toomey calls Trump’s campaign to overturn Pennsylvania election ‘completely unacceptable’

On Jan. 6, Toomey gave a speech defending Pennsylvania’s votes, then returned for a second after the riot.

“It was important for a visible Republican to stand up and say that,” Rendell said.

Others said supporting democracy was the bare minimum.

“I’m glad that he made certain steps,” said Vashti Bandy, a Tuesdays with Toomey organizer. But “it never felt like he did it at a point where it would actually cost him anything.”

What’s next for Pat Toomey?

Toomey is finishing his tenure with another round of conservative stances offset by a few notable exceptions.

He praised the Supreme Court ruling ending federal protections for abortion rights and voted this month against a bill to protect same-sex marriage.

But he also supported the bipartisan gun bill and vowed to back an Electoral College reform to prevent a repeat of the 2020 election subversion.

“Somebody in my position had an obligation to stand up and tell the truth.”

Sen. Pat Toomey

In his final weeks in office, he introduced one bill to ease permitting for gas pipelines, and another, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), to force the Federal Reserve to be more responsive to public information requests.

More than a decade after bringing his own changes to the GOP, Toomey acknowledged the party has shifted again.

“It’s natural for a party to change and evolve,” Toomey said. ”Actually, I think our coalition is growing. I’m actually very optimistic about the future of the party.”

He has strongly, and publicly, urged the GOP to break with Trump, arguing that the former president disqualified himself with his actions after the 2020 election, and has proven to be a political loser. Though he also said Trump has opened some avenues for the party.

“I think the Republican Party is more appealing to a lot of blue-collar workers, especially in small towns, that might not have considered themselves Republicans before, and Donald Trump brought people into the coalition that weren’t there before,” he said, while adding that the former president has “also turned a lot of people away with his personality, let’s say.”

» READ MORE: Republican Pat Toomey blames Donald Trump for GOP’s election failures in Pennsylvania

He said Republicans are still grappling with understanding Trump’s surprise win.

“One of the things that is pretty safe to bet is that a lot of Republican voters felt that they wanted a Republican president who was going to fight more aggressively against the left, against woke-ism, against cultural changes, against massive growth in government,” he said.

Could Toomey — who mostly avoided culture wars — win a GOP primary today?

“I think probably,” he said. “I mean, it’s not knowable. I’m not running one. But yeah, I think so.”

Toomey said he had long planned to serve only two terms, believing in term limits and the benefits of turnover in Congress.

“I’ve been in federal elected office for 18 years now. And that’s a long time. And that’s enough,” he said. “I’ve always thought I’d do one more thing. I’d have one more career.”

He doesn’t have anything lined up, saying he’ll start having discussions in January, once his term ends.

“I don’t want to pursue anything while I’m still in office. I don’t want any conflicts of interest, I don’t want the perception of conflicts of interest,” Toomey said, “so I’m not having any conversations with anybody.”

Asked about what he might miss, he points, naturally, to a recent meeting with treasury officials in the United Kingdom. The topic of age came up, and he looked down the table and realized he was probably the youngest one there.

“Whatever I do next, I’m betting I won’t be the youngest guy in the room,” he said with a laugh. “So maybe I’ll miss that.”