With faith in our democratic institutions crumbling, there was an opportunity following the 2020 election for a moderate like Joe Biden to unify the country and pursue a centrist agenda. Having campaigned as the transitional candidate, Biden’s appeal was to bring the country away from the ruckus of the Trump years and back to a state of normalcy.
The message was soon forgotten, as Biden seemed to become enthralled with the idea of becoming this generation’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson. As a result, opportunities to pass legislation expanding voting rights, reforming health care and investing in clean energy have been forfeited due to this administration’s insistence on ideological purity.
The consequences have been stark. President Biden’s approval rating is now on par with that of his predecessor, laying the groundwork for an all-too-familiar midterm reckoning. This gives Republicans the chance to redeem their image and offer a vision that is forward-thinking. The country is desperate for leadership that will work to rehabilitate trust in our institutions.
Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania’s race for governor, Republicans aren’t meeting the call.
Most recent polls show former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta and state Sen. Doug Mastriano as the two front-runners in the quest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. In a bid to win the favor of the former president and his base, Mastriano has called for a full “forensic investigation” of Pennsylvania’s 2020 general election and 2021 primary. While not in the state Legislature, Barletta has been eager to voice his support for an election “audit.”
Under normal circumstances involving the typical political hot topics, this sort of pandering is to be expected. When it comes to election integrity, however, what’s at stake is much graver than “Is candidate X a secret Hollywood liberal?” It centers on the stability of our system of government. Appeasing a political base by promoting ideas corrosive to our democratic system reveals a level of political pragmatism solely interested in gaining power. Barletta and Mastriano have shown they are hell-bent on making that trade.
Every politician has, to some degree, a willingness to be pragmatic. The question for the people is how far this pragmatism will be stretched and for what ends. That is what makes the candidacies of Barletta and Mastriano alarming. The issue of certifying elections will be relevant in the future, particularly in 2024. Assuming Barletta or Mastriano prevails as the Republican nominee, the race for governor will be over the future of our institutional norms.
Under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, the certification of Pennsylvania’s last two presidential elections was smooth, with the winner in 2016, a Republican, and in 2020, a Democrat. Can we be confident that either Barletta or Mastriano will continue this tradition? We shouldn’t settle for a pathetic “I hope so” or a scandalous bet that “Republicans will win Pennsylvania in 2024 regardless.”
The question is: Are either of these candidates to be trusted as active agents in the peaceful transfer of presidential power? Given the heightened significance Pennsylvania has had in the last two presidential elections, and the rhetoric and actions taken by both of these candidates, it must be understood: The peaceful transfer of power is on the ballot.
The moment one of the nominees from a major political party seeks and/or panders to efforts undermining our institutions, other matters — tax policy, education and social issues — lose their precedence. The question before us is no longer a matter of policy, but something more fundamental: How important is it to you, the voter, to have a governor who believes in certifying Pennsylvania’s elections? Are the philosophical differences between the average conservative and the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a stretch too far when the alternative is a willing accomplice for the likely Republican presidential nominee in 2024?
The answer is no. It is not worth the cost. Our institutions have been stretched far enough. Taxing them with someone who has a history of normalizing antidemocratic sentiment in exchange for a leaner fiscal policy isn’t a worthwhile gamble.
The insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, should be a good reminder of the fruits of such a compromise. For all the good the former president did with his economic and foreign policy agendas, the images of the U.S. Capitol being ransacked have become his domestic and international legacy. The 2017 tax cuts weren’t worth 40% of the electorate losing confidence in democracy; and the Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords weren’t worth livestreaming our country’s fragility to our geopolitical adversaries.
Voting for Barletta or Mastriano this November would require the same calculus, but at the state level. Given that equation, I will not be supporting either candidate in the May 17 primary or in the general election. After thinking this over and considering the significance of the matter, I want to encourage all Republicans — especially those who place a high importance on preserving our country’s democratic infrastructure — to vote against these candidates May 17, and if necessary, in November.
Joe Mohler is a committeeman for the Lancaster Township Republican Committee and its former chairman.
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