Then Republican gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta, of Hazleton, speaks during a press conference on Thursday, May 12, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).
Back in 2016, you would have been hard pressed to find a more stalwart supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump than Lou Barletta.
Barletta, the former mayor of Hazleton, and then a Republican member of Congress from Pennsylvania, was one of Trump’s earliest Keystone State backers, and went to bat for him in the race against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On Friday, Barletta took to Twitter, where he called on Trump’s current (and currently undeclared) rival for the GOP White House nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to make it official and just jump into the race already.
“More than ever our country needs strong leadership, someone that gets things done & isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right,” Barletta wrote, adding that he and former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino were “calling on our former colleague @RonDeSantisFL to run for president in 2024. Come on Ron, your country needs you! #NeverBackDown.”
More than ever our country needs strong leadership, someone that gets things done & isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right. So Tom Marino & I are calling on our former colleague @RonDeSantisFL to run for president in 2024. Come on Ron, your country needs you! #NeverBackDown
— Lou Barletta (@RepLouBarletta) March 10, 2023
Politics always makes for odd alliances, but that’s still a pretty significant shift in tone from 2016, where Barletta publicly called on establishment Republicans to support Trump in the GOP nominating race that year.
“I wish that the establishment, instead of trying to stop Trump, you know, would look at why he’s so popular and coalesce around him so that it’s one team in November. Donald Trump is bringing a record amount of Democrats and independents…we should embrace that,” Barletta told Politico at the time. “I like that he is willing to stand up and fight for the American people, and as I did as mayor.”
Trump repaid Barletta’s loyalty with an endorsement during his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, where he ended up getting stomped, 55%-42%, by incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Four years later, in 2022, Trump snubbed Barletta during his ill-starred 2022 GOP gubernatorial campaign, opting for election-denying state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin.
Given the former president’s public distaste for losing candidates his decision to back Mastriano, who took a historic drubbing at the hands of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro last November, wasn’t a surprise.
And Barletta was pretty vocal in his dissatisfaction.
“There is no denying there was a big endorsement by President Trump, and I’m going to say this loud and clear,” Barletta said during a 2022 campaign rally, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “President Trump, you are dead wrong, and I’m going to prove it on Tuesday.”
Marino, of Lycoming County, who also was in attendance, piled on — and in no uncertain terms.
“I’m incredibly disappointed and disgusted with Trump, and actually hurt,” Marino said during that same rally, according to the Inquirer. “He didn’t even have the decency to call Lou and tell him he was endorsing someone else. … Fate is a funny thing, and we have a big surprise for him.”
Taken together, then, Barletta’s pivot to DeSantis, who is expected to declare pretty much any day now, also isn’t a shock.
Which isn’t to say that Barletta, who made national headlines for his hardline policies against undocumented people during his time as Hazleton’s mayor, has necessarily abandoned GOP extremism.
— Lou Barletta (@RepLouBarletta) October 24, 2022
Still, Barletta’s defection may signal broader problems for Trump, who cannot win the nomination — or the White House — without winning Pennsylvania.
Speaking to PoliticsPA last week, onetime Trump adviser David Urban, a Pennsylvania native, said he believed “most people in Pennsylvania are open to somebody else” in 2024.
Even Trump loyalists on Urban’s home turf have told the GOP consultant “we like DeSantis a lot,” though they’ve stopped short of abandoning Trump, PoliticsPA reported.
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