A brief history of the recent Pennsylvania race summarizes the moral bankruptcy of American conservatism
✎ Wayne K. Spear | March 15, 2018 • Politics
IT MUST HAVE BEEN a let-down for the President when Rick Saccone lost his Pennsylvania seat to Democrat Conor Lamb, earlier this week and in a Republican district Trump himself had carried by 19 points. But there was consolation. Paul Ryan claimed that the President had in fact helped Saccone, in a race that he described as even more dire before Trump’s rally, and on Fox and Friends the hosts re-cast Conor Lamb as a Republican supporter of GOP policies. Fake news, they call it. Anyways, Steve Doocy added, Lamb’s PA18 district won’t even exist after November, so no biggie.
What Doocy didn’t mention was that PA18, a suburb of Pittsburgh, has been redrawn by order of the state’s supreme court. It’s the first time a state court has abolished district boundaries ruled to be the work of partisan gerrymandering. PA18 was engineered to make Democratic wins impossible, and for a while the effort paid off. So, yes, PA18 won’t exist after November, but the reasons ought to shame rather than encourage the GOP, assuming they are capable of shame.
The rise of Rick Saccone corresponds with the fall of David Levdansky. For twenty-five years Levdansky represented Pennsylvania’s 39th, but the Democrats went into the Obama 2010 midterm with a narrow, one-seat majority. The Republicans made no secret of their plan. They would pour campaign money into the state legislatures and, if victorious, re-draw the state districts in ways that favoured the GOP’s congressional ambitions. The work was handed to something called the Republican State Leadership Committee, under Chris Jankowski, and is the subject of a 2016 book, Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. The Republicans code-named the operation REDMAP, the Redistricting Majority Project, and as I said made no secret of it.
The first step, ousting Levdansky, was simple enough. On Saturday October 9, with three weeks left in the race, the Republicans began a saturation campaign, filling the airwaves and the mailboxes each day with attacks on the Democratic candidate, claiming he had championed a $600M Arlen Specter Library. (Specter, as you know, had recently defected the Republicans to run as a Democrat. Thus by association Levdansky was labelled as not only a liberal, but a traitor.) The smear worked, the Republicans took over the legislature, and madly off in all directions went the gerrymander.
The redaction of PA18 was even messier than the GOP’s midterm assaults. The new congressional district excised Pittsburgh, and its urban Democratic voters, and produced a delirious map where one side of a street was in one district and the other side of a street in another. As I recall it, one of the candidates lived in a house that became the only house on the street in its district. The overall effect of this dog’s breakfast was to produce reliably Republican blocs in the southwestern suburbs of Pittsburgh, which was what the REDMAP operation had set out to do and what the state’s supreme court has now undone.
And let’s not forget what was special about this month’s special election. Rick Saccone was after the seat vacated by Republican Tim Murphy, a pro-life politician with a lover, an extramarital affair, and a “pregnancy scare” on his CV. Bad as that may be, it’s not what brought him down. Once the bad news started, it kept coming. Murphy’s staff provided the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with astonishing and lurid stories of an office culture spinning out-of-control, and soaked in abuse, hostility, and corruption, where there was 100% turnover and where it had become impossible to recruit and retain competent staff. (Sounds familiar, right?)
Down went Murphy, like the PA18 gerrymandering project, and up came Saccone. In a statement about the court-mandated map, he said he would run and win, regardless of the district, “because it’s not about the lines that are drawn, but about the values I represent.” Haha, and yes, the lofty values of the GOP—we’re all experts on that now, living as we are in a moral universe where Republicans hold Roy Moore godly and where President Donald Trump champions an abstinence-only curriculum. Saccone likes to brag that he was Trump before Trump, but the voters have now weighed in on the GOP’s values and there’s nothing to be proud of. Let the Trumpists fall, let the conversation turn to life after this administration, and may the work soon begin of undoing the GOP’s dirty deeds.