As usual, Pennsylvania in 2022 finds itself playing the role of fulcrum in American politics. A perfectly divided Senate means every national Senate race that is actually in play will get worked over like a speedbag in a Philly boxing gym, and after the retirement announcement of two-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania this year makes the list.
The primary for both parties will be held on May 17, and in both parties, there is the sense that this vote will be a place of definitions. For the Democrats, the race is coming down to ideological differences the House majority has come to know all too well.
Conor Lamb, as a conservative House Democrat, joined with fellow conservative Democrats like his staunch ally, Sen. Joe Manchin, to pull President Biden’s domestic legislative agenda apart. Now a candidate for Toomey’s seat, Lamb is trying to pass himself off as some sort of “moderate progressive” amalgam, going so far as to distance himself from Manchin on the trail. Few are fooled. He is head-and-shoulders the establishment Democrat in the race, whether he likes it or not.
Meanwhile, actual progressive Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leads Lamb, according to the most recent survey, by a galloping 44 to 23 percent. “It’s a huge Senate race,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party senior adviser Jack Doyle told NBC 10 Philadelphia. “Depending on what happens, it could dictate who controls the Senate. It’s probably the best chance of a pickup for the Democrats.”
Old salts like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are becoming increasingly noisy about the real possibility that the GOP could blow a huge opportunity here by nominating easily-beaten mayhem candidates like TV medical celebrity Mehmet Oz just because they excel at pumping Trump’s tires. “McConnell is well aware of the GOP’s good fortunes this year,” reports The Atlantic, “and how easily the party could blow it. ‘How could you screw this up?’ the once and perhaps future majority leader mused recently in Kentucky. ‘It’s actually possible. And we’ve had some experience with that in the past.’”
The Republican side in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of the state of the national GOP. The primaries, as well as the general election in November, are being cast as a bellwether on Trump’s hold over the party. Trump has endorsed Mehmet Oz over a tight field of mostly Trump devotees. It is decisions like this that keep McConnell and the old guard up at night.
The governor’s office is also up for grabs, and the fight for that nomination has further illuminated the odd place the GOP finds itself. “No matter who wins Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary, the candidate will probably be someone who supports essentially outlawing abortion, getting rid of mail voting, dramatically expanding fracking, and slashing regulations on drillers and other industries,” reports PBS. “Former Congressman Lou Barletta, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and businessman Dave White are all essentially battling to prove who can be most conservative and, perhaps more importantly, most like former President Donald Trump.”
Where, oh where is all this pressure to “be like Trump” coming from?
Roger Stone, the unreconstructed Trump loyalist whose fashion sense could be marketed under “Guilty as Hell,” is seeing some weird shit in the skies above the Biden White House.
“Stone asserted that a friend had sent him photos showing a ‘satanic portal’ appearing over the White House after President Joe Biden took office,” reports Kyle Mantyla for Right Wing Watch, “and so he reached out to conspiracy theorist and ‘prophet’ Robin Bullock to arrange an appearance on [far right pro-Trump podcast] ‘Elijah Streams’ so he could share the startling news and photos.”
“It’s very, very clear,” Stone said of the pumpkin-colored image of nothing (coincidence?). “It doesn’t move, day or night. It’s harder to see during the day, but you see it at night. And I’m absolutely convinced about the inherent evil of what’s going on in the White House, what’s going on in the country.… This is not some practical joke. This isn’t some conspiracy theory. I’m absolutely convinced that this is demonic. It is a satanic portal. It is access to this Earth by those who are evil, and only by closing it will we be successful in saving this nation under God.”
Most people don’t know it, but they’ve been dealing with Roger Stone in one form or another for the last 50 years. A self-described “dirty trickster,” this latter-day Batman villain has poured his poison into the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. A long-time Trump ally, Stone was convicted on seven felony counts stemming from the Mueller investigation, but Trump commuted the sentence before incarceration began, ultimately pardoning Stone entirely five months later.
Now there’s this sudden veer into the realm of Armageddon, and it makes perfect sense.
Two things to know about Roger Stone: 1. He is abnormally ruthless and knows no bottom to shame; 2. He is a creature of the real Republican Party, not the stodgy suits in the Senate or the Fox News TV stars they cater to, but the black bag in the back of the trunk filled with “tools.” Men like Roger Stone are prima facie evidence that the bare-knuckle tactics of the John Birch Society are alive and well in the actual mainstream of Republican ideology.
Generally speaking, when you know their names, it means they’re doing it wrong. They’re like the weird fish who swim the deep and only see the light of day when dragged to the surface by an anchor. Stone is the exception that proves the rule; he did run, and was the face of, one of the most muscular lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. He has “panache,” God help us, and loves the camera… yet he is a blooded member of the GOP “Deep State,” right alongside people like Matt Schlapp.
Who? Exactly. Question: Do you believe the 2000 election had a direct impact on your life? If so, tip your cap to Mr. Schlapp, who broke into big-time GOP politics by organizing and acting as the on-site leader of the so-called “Brooks Brothers Riot” in Miami. That brazen act of election disruption brought the Florida recount to a halt, ultimately resulting in the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, which I’d say, yeah, has had an impact over the last 22 years on virtually every living thing on the planet. Dig it, Matt: At this moment, I’m writing about you because of you. Beat that with a stick.
Schlapp got anchored up into the light of the news last week when his name came up in a giant CNN document dump regarding the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. The network got hold of and then published more than 2,000 text messages to and from former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, spanning from the weeks before the assault to the attack itself, and for days afterward.
A text from Schlapp to Meadows on Election Day 2020 jumped out of the tranche: “Pls get 4 or 5 killers in remaining counts. Need outsiders who will torch the place.” The language is the kind of hypermasculine tough-guy posturing Roger Stone revels in, and why not? Stone takes personal credit for and towering pride in also authoring the Brooks Brothers Riot, which changed the world forever.
Stone was also eyebrows-deep in the doings before and on 1/6, which changed the world forever, and here is his old Miami pal Schlapp calling the chief of staff on Election Day with instant reaction instructions. Calls like that are like mice: If you see one, be sure there are more. Did I mention Schlapp is also a high-powered lobbyist, just like Stone? I sense a pattern, and a hell of a long association in the shadows of their shared midnight sea.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano is currently the frontrunner for the Pennsylvania GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, and he is playing with fire. “When candidates for public office indulge in conspiracy theories like QAnon, it’s often with a wink and a nod,” reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. “But just weeks before Pennsylvania’s May 17 primary election, such ideas are being promoted in plain sight. And high-profile Republican candidates for statewide office are treating talk of a ‘global satanic blood cult’ like regular campaigning.”
Mastriano, for his part, looked over the lay of the political landscape and jumped right in. Last week, he attended a far right Christian conference called “Patriots Arise for God and Country” in Gettysburg. Not long into the program, and as if to define its purpose for all assembled, this happened:
About 25 minutes into the two-day conference, organizers played a video claiming the world is experiencing a “great awakening” that will expose “ritual child sacrifice” and a “global satanic blood cult.”
Followers of QAnon believe a global cabal of Democrats and elites are trafficking children for sex and engaged in other demonic activity — but that all of this will soon be exposed. Images associated with the conspiracy theory were on display during the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack.
The video showed Friday featured a kind of greatest hits of conspiracy theories that have circulated for decades. It showed images of the Twin Towers collapsing on 9/11 — with the label “false flags.” It claimed John F. Kennedy was assassinated because he “knew too much” and posed a “high risk of cabal exposure,” that vaccines amount to “genocide therapy,” and that Hitler faked his death. It offered other conspiracy theories about the atomic bomb, the Spanish flu, 5G, the 2008 financial crisis — and, of course, the 2020 election.
But, the video said, it is “game over” for the darkness, and thousands will be jailed and executed. It showed images of a guillotine.
That sounds familiar. You don’t have to believe, but when you hear it, you know you’re listening to an ally. Major GOP candidates like Doug Mastriano are listening, and showing up to join the show. Other high-profile Pennsylvania candidates who made the scene at the “Patriots Arise for God and Country” hootenanny included lieutenant governor candidate Teddy Daniels, Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington and former Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis.
A year after the 1/6 insurrection, and what? “I’m absolutely convinced that this is demonic,” Stone railed on the “Elijah Streams” broadcast. “It is a satanic portal. It is access to this Earth by those who are evil, and only by closing it will we be successful in saving this nation under God.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Mr. Stone does not believe one word of that. Doug Mastriano might, but Stone? Never.
Remember: He is bereft of shame, and a creature of the real GOP… and nowadays, thanks to Trump’s ongoing revolution, strange noises like the ones he’s making have basically occupied the party’s rhetorical driver’s seat. In most Republican regions of this country, in core fortresses like central Pennsylvania and Ohio, such talk is the coin of the realm — again, you may not believe it, but when you hear it, you know you’re listening to an ally. These are the people Mitch McConnell and the old-line Republicans fear most, and for good reason.
Stone thinks this is how it’s going to be for the party from now on and is getting in on the ground floor, as he did in 1972 by seeding the campaigns of various Democratic presidential candidates with Nixon spies.
Stone is possessed of the kind of cunning that has kept him from turning up in the trunk of a car with a dozen bullets in his head; his instincts, though venomous, have served him well… and now this Bible-blaring pivot. It sounds absurd until you stop and take a good look around at places like Pennsylvania, and the races being run there.
It’s getting really weird out there, and the races in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have been sucked into this bizarre wake. While Democrats argue over whether they want to nominate another Manchin clone, Republicans wonder which candidate will bring Hillary Clinton to justice for peddling children out the back of pizza places in Benghazi and Hollywood.
Roger Stone may be ahead of the curve on the party he has served for the term of his life, but he’s right where the action is. As the primaries approach, that action promises to get even wilder. Playing the God card hard is the next “logical” step, and Stone is no fool. For him and his allies, it’s time to pluck another pigeon.