The Pennsylvania GOP has tasked a Washington, D.C. consulting firm to conduct a $100,000 autopsy of what went wrong in the midterms. I remember when the RNC did something similar after Mitt Romney’s flop in 2012, and if memory serves correct, those high-powered consultants got it wrong. Politics is hard, but it’s not complicated, and if you need a $100,000 document to tell you what to do, then you have no business leading the party.
The midterms should have been a slam dunk for Republicans in Pennsylvania. Despite an incredibly unpopular president, an economy in ruin, violence and property crime on the rise and years of lockdowns, Republicans couldn’t capitalize. Instead, they took that climate for granted and failed to deliver a coherent message that resonated with voters.
In the gubernatorial race, Republican nominee Doug Mastriano was a deeply flawed candidate. He is somewhat of a weird guy that never really looked the part and ran on the singular issue of relitigating the 2020 election. Oddly, despite the insurmountable polling deficit, he seemed to believe that if he and his wife prayed hard and long enough, the rest would take care of itself and he would win. With that said, it’s hard to find him solely responsible. The blame should rest largely on the Pennsylvania GOP leadership in neglecting to do their job – endorsing a candidate in the primary. It's no guarantee that the result would have been different, but, perhaps, it would have cleared the field enough where Republican voters would have had a binary choice and opportunity to elect a palatable candidate.
The outcome of the Senate race is more nuanced. Wrongly, many self-proclaimed “political experts” point to now-U.S. Sen. John Fetterman riding Gov. Josh Shapiro’s coattails as the driving force behind the Fetterman win. Undoubtedly, it played a role. However, this reasoning fails to give Fetterman and his campaign any credit for effective messaging to working-class voters and acknowledge the failure of Oz and the Pennsylvania GOP to reignite the spark that led to the surprising Donald Trump win in 2016.
Over the course of more than a decade, Fetterman worked hard to build a brand and base of support. He talked about forgotten towns and forgotten people. He lambasted trade deals that sent jobs overseas. He attacked corporate greed and advocated for unionized work. True or not, it doesn’t matter; he was perceived as a genuine hard working blue-collar guy that would fight for the working class and against the elites. It’s the ultimate populist message with many parallels to Trump’s 2016 platform.
To counter the narrative, the Oz team fought Fetterman for the “Everyman” title. Voters aren't stupid and they really hate when a candidate is trying to be something they are not, so voters didn't buy it. Fetterman's attacks landed, and Oz was stuck with the label of a wealthy, out-of-touch carpetbagger that didn’t understand Pennsylvanians.
Policy-wise, Oz didn’t fare any better. He listened to his consultants and placated big donors, delivering the tired neoliberal message voters have heard since the 1980s. It’s the same “tax cuts are good and socialism is bad” shtick. Voters were left wanting more. They are tired of being left behind at the expense of corporate ghouls and demand a leader that will challenge the status quo, fight elite power centers and deliver for families.
It doesn't take an expert to figure out that this postmortem will highlight issues like mail-in voting, abortion and Mastriano's negatives weighing everyone down as the main factors behind the abysmal outcome. It's predictable, boring, and designed to deflect.
Ultimately, the Pennsylvania GOP must change course. We cannot be the corporate, country club party anymore. Hell, most of the huge corporations hate Republicans anyway. The people want radical change and we must deliver a message that offers just that. The current crop of Pennsylvania GOP leadership needs to go.
Sean Duffy recently transitioned out of the Army as a JAG Officer with the 82nd Airborne Division. He now practices law at a Bucks County firm. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.