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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: 'Trump' or 'Not Trump,' that is the question

| Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, 7:11 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence and Rick Saccone wave while on stage together at an event in Bethel Park on Feb. 2, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Vice President Mike Pence and Rick Saccone wave while on stage together at an event in Bethel Park on Feb. 2, 2018.

In his book “How the Good Guys Won: Notes from an Impeachment Summer,” nationally syndicated columnist Jimmy Breslin said, “All political power is primarily an illusion. ... Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors.” He likened politicians to magicians and mediums, who obscure reality to misdirect audiences. With carefully placed mirrors and a puff of smoke, horses seem to disappear, and séance tables inexplicably rise on a cloud.

Those magicians' tricks can make it hard for voters to separate fact from fiction, but not in three upcoming Pennsylvania races for which Republicans have slated an “all-Trump” ticket, giving many voters a simple choice between “Trump” and “Not Trump.”

In the March 13 special election in the 18th Congressional District, Republican candidate Rick Saccone, a conservative state legislator, boasts, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” There is no mistaking where he stands on the big issues, since he stays in close step with the president.

Democrat Conor Lamb, a Marine Corps reservist and former federal prosecutor, is certainly “Not Trump,” but not a liberal Democrat either. The first-time candidate supports the Second Amendment and has made clear that he will not support Nancy Pelosi for leadership, saying, “It's time for someone new to step up and get it done.”

Last week, the Republican state committee endorsed candidates for governor and U.S. Senator. Both make no bones about supporting Donald Trump.

State Sen. Scott Wagner was endorsed for governor. He bought 20,000 Trump lawn signs in 2016, built a multimillion-dollar hauling and trucking business in York and vows to “Make Pennsylvania Greater.” A year ago, after announcing his run, he told the Trib, “Donald Trump is a visionary and he's a leader.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf says Trump is “sabotaging health care” and “causing chaos” for Pennsylvania families. Wolf also says, “Thousands of Pennsylvanians rely on programs that are being eliminated or dramatically cut in President Trump's budget proposal.” Wolf is clearly “Not Trump.”

For U.S. Senate, Republicans endorsed Hazleton Congressman Lou Barletta, one of Trump's earliest supporters. Squarely in Trump's corner, he has opposed immigration reform and supported Trump's tax plan and budget cuts. Trump has tweeted that he “will make a FANTASTIC Senator.”

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is “Not Trump.” He opposes Trump's proposed budget, tweeting a link to a Washington Post story that says it “calls for major cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs.” Casey says Trump's presidency has been “a series of broken promises to the middle class and workers.” He opposes “massive tax giveaways to the wealthiest and biggest corporations.”

So, the battle lines are drawn, clearly and early. Republicans are betting the Trump wave has grown in Pennsylvania, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by less than 1 percentage point. Democrats are betting the pendulum has begun to swing toward the middle.

And the eyes of the nation are on the Keystone State.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com)

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