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Chester County Press

Editorial: The lonely Republican outlier

03/03/2021 10:57AM ● By Richard Gaw

The following timeline is an account of events that have led to the punishment of a man for the use of his conscience.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, voted to reelect Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States.

He was one of 74 million Americans to do so.

During the late morning of Nov. 8, after a tortuous back-and-forth recount that simultaneously paralyzed and divided the nation, Joseph R. Biden was officially elected as the 46th President of the United States.

On Jan. 6, following several weeks of his vitriolic opposition to the results of the election, Trump promoted and held a rally in Washington, D.C. before a sea of his most ardent supporters. At the podium, Trump repeated his false charges that the election was stolen from him, and at one point during his 70-minute speech, he urged his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol Building in an effort to help thwart the Senate’s efforts to officially formalize Biden’s election.
“You have to get your people to fight, and you have to fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore,” Trump declared at the rally.

To his detractors, Trump’s speech came off as a last-ditch effort to retain a power that was slipping away from him. To his supporters, it was a rallying cry, a call to arms in the age of social media, and by the time they had arrived at the Capitol Building, Trump supporters were no longer riding on the steam heat of the President’s words, they were fully engaged in their intention.

During the ensuing riot, Washington, D.C. police officers were overrun by the insurrectionist mob, and assaulted with sticks, American flags and bear and pepper spray. Over 125 of them suffered various sorts of injuries, and when the tally was complete, several people had died in the melee, to which Trump responded in a Tweet: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

On Jan. 20, Biden was sworn in as the nation’s 46th President.

On Feb. 13, Sen. Toomey, who had declared last fall that he was not running for reelection in 2023, was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” and voted in favor of the House of Representatives’ article for impeachment. Trump, Toomey told reporters, “will be remembered throughout history as the President who resorted to non-legal steps to try to hold onto power.

“No president, or anyone else, has the First Amendment right to incite a violent attack on our government,” he said in explaining his vote.

Voting largely along party lines, the Senate found the former president not guilty on the charge of inciting an insurrection

On Feb. 18, in support of his decision to vote for an impeachment trial for the now former president, Toomey published an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Because of President Trump’s conduct, for the first time in American history, the transfer of presidential power was not peaceful,” he wrote. “A president’s lawless effort to retain power was a primary fear motivating the founders’ inclusion of impeachment authorities in the Constitution. President Trump’s desperate attempts to stay in office undermined the foundations of our republic, betrayed the confidence of millions who voted for him, and required a vote to convict.”

In the last three weeks, the members of his own party – in particular, rank-and-file Republican Party committee members in Pennsylvania -- have not come to praise Toomey for the power of his convictions, but to bury him for what they perceive is a rejection of the party itself.

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Republican committees in several counties throughout the commonwealth have either censured Toomey or are making plans to, citing his disloyalty to the party, and in a greater sense, to Trump, who according to a Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll of those attending the recent CPAC conference, remains the preferred GOP candidate for the 2024 Presidential election.

The tear down of Toomey hasn’t yielded. One committee resolution stated that Toomey’s vote was “unconstitutional, dangerous in its precedent, divisive, and lacking in due process and regard for the rights of the accused.

“Sen. Toomey has violated the trust of his voters, failed to fulfill and represent a very large majority of motivated Pennsylvania voters, and neglected his duty to represent the party and the will of the people who elected him to represent them,” the resolution read.

Republicans in York County voted to censure Toomey, claiming that he is out of touch with the “core beliefs of the people of Pennsylvania.”

Perhaps the most unkindly takedown of Toomey came courtesy of Washington County Republican Chair David Ball, who told a Pittsburgh television news reporter that Toomey had no justification for his vote to condemn Trump for any involvement in the Jan. 6 riots.

“We did not send him (Toomey) there to vote his conscience,” Ball said. “We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us, and we feel very strongly that he did not represent us.”

There is no need for parsing the phraseology and meaning of Ball’s words. At its core, the Republican Party’s scorched-earth condemnation of Toomey lay in his audacity to follow the tragic events of Jan. 6 as if he were examining a connection of moments, and tracing one of its frayed ends back to its beginning, back to the moment when Donald J. Trump incited his followers to fight, and fight like hell.   

By following his convictions, what has Toomey earned other than the rank of the lonely Republican outlier, subject to current consternation and permanent banishment from his party long after he leaves office? And of this red meat backlash, is any of this surprising to us? Not really; it is merely emblematic of modern politics, a bipartisan, two-ring circus tent full of carnival barkers where a lawmaker is not applauded for eclipsing his or her party’s line for the greater good, but rather laid waste because of it.

Toomey’s rebuke is systematic of a party that cannot in the glare of the public criticize Trump or his conspiracy theories, for fear that they themselves will be penalized by a voting base who remains transfixed on the 45th President and sees no succeeding generation of Republicans to replace him as its voice.

In his Jan. 7 response to the Capitol riots, Dr. Gordon Eck, chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County, wrote, “Behavior is rooted in belief. It is my hope and prayer that going forward we as a people, despite our differences, will live with mutual respect, guided by our shared identity as people made in the image of God.”

Dr. Eck’s words may be substantive in their wide-eyed intentions for humanity, but when applied to his party’s all-out excoriation of a long-time colleague, they are brutally barren of meaning.