Thunder and lightning have left the building.
For some Republicans, former President Donald Trump’s announcement last week that he would run for the White House in 2024 was welcome news.
For others, however, news of Trump’s desire to run again raised concerns that his candidacy could hurt a party that underperformed in this month’s midterm elections despite predictions of a “red wave.”
Two prominent Republicans who have left the MAGA group: former Pennsylvania Congressmen Lou Barletta and Tom Marino, who Trump dubbed “thunder and lightning” for their prominent, vocal support during his successful 2016 presidential bid.
In statements emailed to the Times Leader on Saturday, both men expressed reservations about Trump’s decision to run again.
“I was one of the first elected officials in the country to endorse Donald Trump for President seven years ago; I also co-chaired his 2016 campaign in Pennsylvania and was one of his staunchest supporters in Congress,” Barletta wrote.
“However, I will not endorse him for president in 2024,” he concluded without elaborating.
Marino, who now lives in Florida, also said he will not support Trump, citing the former president’s lack of “good judgment” and disloyalty to him.
“In fact, I will campaign against him,” Marino wrote. “Trump has no idea what loyalty means. More importantly, he’s not a good person. Trump is severely lacking in character. Our country deserves mature leadership.”
The White Haven voter stands behind Trump
Some Trump voters are unwavering in their support.
Randy Hockman, a lifelong Republican from White Haven, has voted for Trump twice before and intends to do so again. He liked what he heard as the former president delivered his opening speech for 2024 on Tuesday.
“I thought it was good, down to earth,” Hockman said of the speech. “He was told what he was going to do and I felt he was spoken to well.”
Hockman said he appreciates Trump’s efforts as president to “bring the economy back and bring prosperity back to the people.”
He praised Trump as a strong candidate who makes his opponents look weak.
“I think Washington is scared to death of Republicans and Democrats because he can uncover all sorts of shenanigans,” Hockman said.
As for the Jan. 6, 2021 riots, Hockman has concerns — but not about Trump’s role, having listened to the former president’s speeches and doesn’t believe they instigated the day’s events.
“They shouldn’t have gone into building capital, I agree, but I think it got a lot more out of it than it really was,” Hockman said, though he also agrees that the full truth about the events of the day has yet to come to light .
“I think it’s our right to be able to protest something we don’t believe in and there’s nothing wrong with not believing in the election results,” he said, adding, “Violence is never the answer.”
Does he have concerns about Trump’s candidacy? Some, but he still supports the former president.
For one, Hockman acknowledges that Trump’s offhand speaking style and tweets have alienated some.
Also, there’s Trump’s age – 76.
“He’s also rising, although he doesn’t act like he’s old,” said Hockman, 66, adding with a grin, “His vitality is probably better than mine.”
We asked readers on Times Leader’s Facebook page if they’ve voted for Trump before and if they would vote again. Here were some of their views as they wrote them:
Kevin Lang: Best President Ever! My wallet and 401k miss him dearly
Frank Sobeck: Yes and of course yes again to make America great again in every way!
GT Peterson: All Trump did was play golf and increase the national debt by $7.8 trillion because his $250 million cult members caused a riot for his Fake Stop the Steal Fund, which didn’t exist, and Mexico didn’t for them Wall paid that made sure America Great lol!
Lee Crawford: Yes, I chose him the first time. No, I will not vote for him again. The Dems spent too much time on BS charges and lies focused on impeachment instead of focusing on real issues.
The Philadelphia Inquirer followed up on Trump’s announcement last week by reporting how Pennsylvania Republicans were taking the news.
“Pennsylvania Republicans, molded in Trump’s image, were routed in the 2018 Senate and gubernatorial elections. Trump lost the state — and the presidency — in 2020, while other, less Trump-aligned Republicans won. And last week brought perhaps its most crushing defeat as the GOP lost every major race in Pennsylvania, despite an unpopular President Joe Biden, who has been widely blamed for inflation,” the paper wrote.
“Six years after that 2016 victory, GOP opinions on Trump are decidedly more mixed as he launches another candidacy for the presidency,” the story continued.
“Trump’s strategy for Pennsylvania worked exactly once. Still, he seems willing to try again.”
Among those they quoted:
• Outgoing Senator Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, said the party needed candidates who could appeal to more moderate voters, particularly those in the voting-rich suburbs.
Toomey and several other Republicans pointed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis winning big on Election Day while Republicans struggled elsewhere. Toomey called DeSantis a “dream” for the GOP, which has Trump’s strengths without “the baggage.”
• Andy Reilly, Pennsylvania Republican National Committee member, said DeSantis showed “that you can be a strong conservative and still have centrist appeal with good governance.”
• Rob Gleason, a former GOP state chairman, pointed to the 42% of the vote Doug Mastriano just got when he ran for governor with almost no money to advertise or reach out to voters. That’s Trump’s bare minimum, Gleason said. It might not be enough to win nationally, but it’s certainly enough to dominate in a GOP primary.
• Bill Bretz, Westmoreland County GOP Chairman: “Clearly he’s still the leader of the Republican Party.”
• Jim Worthington, a vocal Trump supporter from Bucks County, told the Inquirer that only the party’s “elites” blamed the former president.
“People love him, the middle class, the working class, the people that he campaigned for absolutely love him and are going to want him to run,” Worthington said.
And, the Inquirer added, even some Democrats are wary of sidestepping Trump as he noted how he surprised everyone in 2016 and came within a percentage point of winning Pennsylvania again in 2020.
“Republicans have regularly lost presidential campaigns in Pennsylvania since 1992, but in the Trump era they won one and narrowly lost the second,” warned JJ Balaban, a Democratic strategist from Philadelphia.
Mitchell’s point of view
Veteran political scientist Ed Mitchell says he sees a split between Trump’s “true believers” and independent/swing voters.
“It’s hard to estimate – some people say it’s 20%, 30%, 40%,” he said of MAGA’s main supporters.
“I think if you look at something like the (Doug) Mastriano vote in Pennsylvania, which was like 40%, I’d say most of that would be Trump supporters too,” he said, referring to the defeated Republican gubernatorial nominee
“You will continue to push the issue of the election and the big lie,” Mitchell said of those who believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, despite all the evidence to support it. “They seem pretty cemented … I don’t know if these people will move until he retires from the political scene.”
But then there are the “persuades,” as Mitchell called them.
“I think he’s lost votes in terms of the persuasive – and the swing voters and the independents and the youth,” he said. “Young voters really pulled the Democrat chestnuts out of the fire in this election by coming out as they did and caring about things like abortion as much as they were.”
One person unlikely to be persuaded back into the MAGA camp is Marino, as his testimony made clear.
“I thought that at some point the media would ask me if I would support Donald Trump if he declared himself the candidate for the 2024 presidential election. Three factors determined what I would do,” he wrote.
“The first factor was whether Trump could grow up and come forward as president and refrain from giving derogatory names to potential candidates. I have to admit I wasn’t surprised it didn’t take him a minute in New York to behave like a childish bully,” Marino wrote.
“The second factor was whether he could use good judgment and not be impetuous and try to derail (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis) time in the spotlight to knock the governor out of the 2024 race. Once again, Trump’s inability to contain his aggression, at least temporarily, haunts him,” Marino continued.
“The third factor, and by far the most important to me, is Trump’s total disregard for loyalty, even though he constantly brags about how important loyalty is to him, even if it’s only one-sided,” he wrote.
“I was the first congressman to come out and support Trump in 2016 who had not supported anyone before. In fact, my leadership told me that my political career was over. Not only did I travel all over Pennsylvania promoting Trump, but I also traveled to several other states. I was co-chair for him. Trump nominated me for the Drug Czar’s Cabinet office because of my 18 years as a District Attorney and my early support for him,” Marino wrote.
“Even so, Trump did not defend me when the national media criticized me for passing legislation that guarantees seniors and people with terminal illnesses get the medicines they need. Although every person in the House of Representatives and every person in the Senate voted for the bill, which President Obama supported and signed into law. Trump threw me under the bus without reservation.”
“Of course I will not support Trump,” he wrote.