Toomey, Trump and the future of Pa.’s Republicans

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Sen. Pat Toomey (left) sits beside President Donald Trump during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Sen. Pat Toomey (left) sits beside President Donald Trump during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari got a tip that Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey would be leaving politics after his current term, he was surprised. If he didn’t run for reelection to the Senate, Toomey was widely expected to run for governor. Without him, Pennsylvania Republicans are scrambling.

Toomey still has two years left on his term, but his announcement comes just weeks before the presidential election. Jonathan explains why the pick to fill Toomey’s shoes could depend on how Pennsylvania swings in 2020, and will determine whether the GOP throws its weight behind more traditional Republicans like him or someone more like President Trump.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview highlights

On the reaction to Toomey’s announcement

A lot of it was shock from Republicans. A lot of it was people just talking about what a wide open campaign it was gonna be. There was some pretty colorful language involved that maybe I’m not going to use here, but you can use your imagination of what kind of phrases people were throwing around. And then there was just already within minutes, hours of the story being posted, the politicking beginning of people associated with potential candidates reaching out to me to be a resource, to make contact, to let us know that so-and-so was interested in that seat …

There really isn’t [a clear frontrunner] and that’s why this was such a seismic event. He’s the only Republican now holding statewide office in Pennsylvania other than judges, so there’s nobody really with the name recognition and the stature that Pat Toomey has on the Republican side of things. It’s really left Republicans with a thin bench … So I think you’re going to see a number of the Republican Congressional Delegation get in. I think you might see some state legislators get in. I think Republicans are going to look for people who are maybe in the private sector and can self-finance their campaigns to get in. But you don’t have a kind of established person who has run statewide as an obvious fit for governor or Senate.

On how Sen. Toomey compares to President Trump

[Sen. Toomey is] more in the mold of what you might think of a traditional Republican. He’s a guy who comes from the business world, who worked on Wall Street. He had owned a small chain of small businesses. He owned a sports bar. He’s very conservative on fiscal policy, to the right even of many of his fellow Senate Republicans. He’s conservative on social issues, but he doesn’t really campaign significantly on social issues. The big exception is on guns, where he supports expanding background checks, which is an unusual thing for a Republican and has allowed him to kind of win over some moderate swing voters to kind of win some praise from some more establishment Democratic types …

On policy, he has supported the president almost all the time. The big difference is on international trade where Toomey is more conservative than the president. So he is conservative, but his kind of stylistic approach is different. And I think when you’re talking about President Trump, the style is one of the big factors that both endears him to his supporters and engenders a lot of opposition from his critics.

On how the presidential election will impact the Republican strategy for Toomey’s seat 

President Trump has a distinct style. And I think there will certainly be Republicans who follow him, who want to tap into that kind of hard-edged style that he has, of the kind of bomb-throwing that he does, whereas someone like Pat Toomey is more buttoned up. He tries to present himself as a constructive Republican; even though he’s conservative, he can work with people on the other side of the aisle. And so I think we will see some Republicans who want to follow that path and the voters are going to be left to choose: Which style do they want? Do they want to go back to the Trump style? Do they want to try something different? And it’s really going to be one of the major tests in 2022, of what happens as we are either in the first years after the Trump presidency or winding towards the end of the Trump presidency.

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