What’s on the ballot Tuesday? A choice between fact and conspiracy | Monday Morning Coffee

If the GOP is looking for someone to blame for the erosion of our politics, it can start with the mirror

May 16, 2022 6:51 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and former state Rep. Rick Saccone at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21 (Facebook photo)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

I’ve known Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Coleman since the early ‘Aughts, when he was a freshman in the state House representing a chunk of Armstrong and Indiana counties. When it comes to matters of policy, we agree on, maybe, three things, and even those are open to vigorous debate.

Our paths have crossed occasionally over the last decade-and-a-half, mostly when Coleman was running campaigns for Republicans with whom I agreed even less.

During the pandemic, though, when things were at their darkest, we began speaking more frequently, mostly about our families, and our shared Christian faith. And we found common ground on both counts.

We both agreed, for instance, that the sun rises and sets on our kids. We also agreed that the God to whom we both look for guidance and strength had charged us with a single duty. Namely, to elevate and protect, as Hubert Humphrey was to so eloquently put it, those in the dawn, shadows, and twilight of life. Though it safely can be said we disagree on the means.

And it occurred to me that, if Jeff Coleman, professional conservative, and me, the progressive journalist, can find common ground, then maybe there’s some shred of hope for the rest of us.

As he’s crisscrossed the state over the last few months, Coleman’s embarked on a quixotic quest: Trying to restore civility to our badly fractured politics. It’s probably not going to work. But he’s going down swinging.

Because our politics only work when we’re talking to each other. When we’re looking past our differences, no matter how profound, and struggling to find that rarest of all things: Common ground.

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Coleman (
Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Coleman (

Which brings me to Tuesday’s primary, and this massively consequential midterm election.

One of the leading Republican candidates for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, has trafficked in baseless claims of election fraud. One GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, Kathy Barnette, of Montgomery County, has, according to CNN“a long history of bigoted statements against Muslims and gays.” 

Both, according to the Washington Post, were at the rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021 attack at the U.S. Capitol, where pro-Trump extremists rampaged through the building in an effort to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s election.

Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board said it had decided against endorsing a Republican candidate in the Senate and gubernatorial contests because only a handful would acknowledge that Biden had legitimately won the election.

Without agreement on a mutual reality, or even a shared set of facts, it’s impossible to reach common ground on the most pressing matters of public policy, from paying for our schools to ensuring we care for those in the dawn, twilight and shadows of life.

The Inquirer’s editorial board aptly summed up the dilemma facing voters, and the body politic, as we try to preserve the norms of liberal democracy.

“How do you find points of agreement when you can’t reach common ground on facts so basic that they could be used in a field sobriety test?” the editorial board sensibly asked.

In short, you can’t. And worse, there doesn’t seem to be any interest among what currently passes for the Republican Party to do so.

Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge speaks at a House hearing on a proposed nuclear subsidy on April 8, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Mastriano and Barnette are emblematic of a GOP that has lurched to the extremes, where fealty to the myth of the stolen election, and a dedication to the isolation of the other, is the only litmus test for office. It is no longer the party of Tom Ridge or Arlen Specter. It’s been altered past the point of being unrecognizable.

Last week, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., remarked that the nation “needs a strong Republican Party,” not a “cult.” She’s right. But it’s too late.

I’ve watched, with wry amusement, as establishment Republicans have launched a last-ditch effort to head off what looks like a victory for Mastriano on Tuesday, and a possible win for Barnette, who made a rapid ascent in the polls in the race’s closing days.

Both, they fear, are too extreme to win a statewide election. My only question: What took them so long? And if they’re looking for someone to blame, they can start by looking in the mirror.

Republican leaders have spent the last decade-plus turning a blind eye to the steady erosion of both fact and civility in our politics, tolerating super-heated nativist rhetoric, thus creating the circumstances under which both Barnette and Mastriano could flourish, and prompting Coleman to launch what likely will end up a hopeless quest to restore a GOP that no longer exists.

Elections, they always say, are about choices. The choices here are between fact and conspiracy; between compassion and fear; and between our preserving liberal democracy or giving in to creeping authoritarianism.

The choice is clear. Everything is on the line.

(Image via

Our Stuff.
When they were asked to rank which component of their financial health they most need help with, 44 percent of respondents to a recent poll said investing or retirement, Cassie Miller reports in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

Pennsylvania’s leading Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, was admitted to a Lancaster hospital after suffering a stroke. He expects to make a full recovery, I report.

Marley Parish and Cassie Miller respectively preview the candidates running for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor during Tuesday’s primary election.

Pennsylvania’s high-profile U.S. Senate contest might be grabbing all the headlines, but the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who will leave office in January 2023 after serving the maximum of two, four-year terms, also is a very big deal. From me, here’s your look at the candidates.

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Frankin, in Pennsylvania’s high-stakes primary for governor, dealing a potentially fatal blow to establishment Republicans who had hoped to head off a victory by the far-right politician who has trafficked in false claims of election fraud, I also report.

Hundreds of advocates took to the Pennsylvania Capitol steps on Saturday, reacting to a leaked draft opinion showing that the U.S. Supreme Court is seemingly poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Marley Parish has the story.

For the first time in history, the Department of Interior investigated the federal Indian boarding school system across the United States, identifying more than 400 schools and over 50 burial sites, including Pennsylvania, Shondiin Sliversmith, of our sibling site, the Arizona Mirror, reports, with an assist from me.

Years after firefighters extinguish a blaze, after the smoke has lifted and ashes have cooled, the people who risked their lives to contain the fire face another danger: cancer and cardiovascular disease resulting from exposure to smoke and heat. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler has the story on congressional efforts to help them.

En la Estrella-Capital: Las familias de Pa. verán alivio después de que el COVID-19 interrumpió los programas de comidas escolares. Y Cambios en La Ley de Pa. del Salario Mínimo, que moderniza las reglas para los trabajadores que reciben propinas, entrará en vigencia en agosto.

On our Commentary Page this morning: We must fight back against attacks on LGBTQ+ kids and adults, advocate David Hecker writes in an op-Ed first published by our sibling site the Michigan Advance. And, want to win the culture war? Choose your words wisely, veteran advertising executive Sheldon Clay writes in a piece first published by our sibling site, the Minnesota Reformer.

(Getty Images).

The Inquirer has its list of five things to watch for in Tuesday’s primary election.

PennLive also has its list of must-watch races on Tuesday.

From the Morning Call: The Procrastinator’s Guide to the primary.

In a bit of understatement, WITF’s ‘Smart Talk’ says Tuesday’s primary election will be ‘unique.’

Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano respectively lead for the GOP nomination for U.S Senate and governor, PoliticsPA reports, citing a new Emerson College poll.

The death of longtime Erie Democratic leader Jean Theis will hover over Tuesday’s electionGoErie’s Kevin Cuneo writes.

Former state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Alleghenyhas died, aged 70, the Post-Gazette reports.

While reporting is inconsistent, hate crimes are on the rise in PennsylvaniaLancasterOnline reports.

The Citizens’ Voice takes a look at what’s driving soaring beef prices.

In West Philadelphia, the families of gun violence victims gathered for ‘healing and reflection,’ WHYY-FM reports.

Multiracial residents are changing the face of the United reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
11 a.m.: House Republican Campaign Committee Southwestern golf outing. Admission runs from a merely offensive $1,000 to a ‘chase them from the temple’ $15,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Pittsburgh today for a 1 p.m. stop at the Pittsburgh Manufacturing Summit at the Carnegie Science Center.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Belated best wishes go out this morning to veteran journo Deb ErdleyEzra Thrush, of PennFuture, and Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, all of whom celebrated on Sunday. Congratulations all around.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s the late, great Robert Palmer covering Todd Rundgren. It’s the yearning ‘Can We Still be Friends?’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The New York Rangers and Calgary Flames both pulled off Game 7 wins on Sunday to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Rangers rallied late, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in overtime. The Flames pipped the Dallas Stars 3-2, also in OT.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.