Editorial: Pennsylvania GOP Avoids Crackup

In purple states such as Pennsylvania, the Trump insurgency puts sane, conservative GOP candidates in a very difficult position: To get the nomination, they have to appeal to a Trump-aligned activist base with some combination of economic protectionism and fiery protect-our-borders nationalism. But to win the general election, they have to appeal to a much larger electorate and to some extent shed their association with an unpopular president. Ed Gillespie’s failure to win the Virginia gubernatorial election is a prime instance of how difficult that transition can be.

Redrawn congressional districts probably favor Democrats more than the old lines did, and a crop of unelectable incendiaries vainly trying to imitate Donald Trump would likely help the Democrats to flip some red seats to blue. The Democrats only need to take back 23 seats to regain the House in November.

Last night’s primary elections in Pennsylvania offer some hope that serious Republicans candidates can still hold their own. In the state’s 1st, 8th, and 14th districts, electable conservatives held off challenges from weak and/or rabble-rousing candidates. In the race to replace outgoing Rep. Charlie Dent in the 7th district, Marty Northstein edged past the vociferously pro-Trump Dean Browning. In the 14th district, Rick Saccone—who managed to lose what should have been an easy race against Democrat Conor Lamb in the old 17th district—went down again, this time to state senator Guy Reschenthaler.

Indeed, the Democrats may have more to worry about than the Republicans for once. In that 7th district race—the new district includes much of the Lehigh Valley and is an even partisan mix—the NARAL and Emily’s List-backed Susan Wild pulled off a surprise victory over moderate Democrat John Morganelli. We suspect running left-wing candidates in moderate-to-conservative districts won’t help the Democrats take back the House.

In the GOP gubernatorial primary, meanwhile, in which Republicans hope to unseat Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Rep. Jim Christiana’s improbable presentation of himself as an “outsider” persuaded very few: Rep. Lou Barletta won the race by 26 points. (President Trump, having no rabble-rouser to endorse, backed Barletta.)

All of which brings us to a tentatively hopeful conclusion. If the economy continues to improve, Republicans keep eschewing irresponsible zealots, and Democrats keep pushing left and assuming hatred for Trump will win elections, Republicans might still avoid the debacle they’ve prepared for themselves over the last two years. The dynamics still point to a tough November for the GOP, especially with an abnormally high number of retirements, but contenders in battleground states seem at least to have drawn the right conclusions.

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