Threatening primaries, Trump supporters make one last pitch for Pa. Republicans to block election results

(Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Supporters of President Donald Trump circled the Pennsylvania Capitol for, potentially, the last time Monday in hopes of shaking the uninterested Republican-controlled state Legislature into stopping the commonwealth from giving its 20 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden.

Republicans in the House and Senate have been saying since before the election they have no mechanism to change the presidential outcome.

While GOP leadership talked of auditing the election, such a proposal was shot down by lawmakers on a legislative research committee. Also, neither House or Senate Republicans issued any subpoenas to compel testimony before legislators on voting irregularities.

Seeing their tepid approach, Monday’s rally-goers, about 100 in all, put their state legislators on notice that they would remember in 2022.

“I will make it my personal mission to see to it that every one of these people who stand against us right now get primaried by a credible challenger,” said Bobby Lawrence, a Franklin County GOP committee person and organizer of Monday’s protest.

Lawrence said such an effort could succeed if it harnessed enthusiasm for Trump. While Trump lost Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, he still won 400,000 more votes than he won in 2016 in an election with record turnout.

Lawrence argued Monday’s rally was not for Trump, but a bipartisan effort for election integrity. He wrote off attendees wearing Trump gear and waving Trump signs as part of a separate effort.

The Capital-Star could only identify one Facebook event for Monday, organized by Lawrence and three others. 

“If we are serious about saving our election and keeping our Republic, NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT ! ! !,” the event description said. “OUR REPUBLIC and President Trump needs ALL OF US who love our country to assemble in Harrisburg on Monday.”

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, a fact that has been reinforced in multiple court cases the Trump campaign has lost in front of conservative judges, sometimes appointed by the president himself.

Still, the campaign has waged an effort, aided by friendly lawmakers, to convince state legislatures to appoint electors themselves. 

They claim this is possible because the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to decide how electors are chosen.

But doing so, Pennsylvania lawmakers and legal experts have fired back, would require ignoring a decades-old state law, the state constitution, legislative rules and setting a precedent that could be abused in the future.

Under current state law, Pennsylvania’s voters, not the Legislature, have the power to pick presidential electors.

Changing this statute would require the signature of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who’d oppose any move to override Pennsylvania’s popular vote.

Also, the General Assembly must operate under certain constitutional provisions, from the number of days it takes to pass a bill and public notice of hearings to their mandatory last day of legislating — Nov. 30. 

Lawrence dismissed those concerns as hiding behind “behind self-imposed rules and self- imposed procedures.”

But either way, a fight over these concerns would end up in the courts along with the Trump campaign’s claims of fraud, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-York.

“I’m not a member of the Trump campaign. I don’t do litigation. I’m not an attorney. But if I had proven cases of fraud, I would have brought that to the forefront right away and would [it] be included it in my court documents,” Grove told the Capital-Star. “I don’t know how to remedy that for the Trump campaign.”

Grove also took to Twitter last week to debunk, without naming him, a misleading statistic used by state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams. 

Mastriano falsely claimed that 1.8 million mail-in ballots had been requested in the 2020 general election, but that 2.5 million were counted. In fact, 3 million ballots were requested for the general election, but 1.8 million were requested for the primary.

Some Republicans have privately expressed concerns about facing challenges from angry Trump supporters in 2022. But it hasn’t encouraged a majority to publicly back two non-binding resolutions that dispute the election’s outcome.

Just 49 of the General Assembly’s 137 Republicans have publicly said they’d back resolutions, sponsored by Mastriano and Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon. If the resolutions would have any impact is unclear.

Cathy Paige, a Bucks County Republican committee woman, noted the reticence. 

Paige, walking around the Capitol Monday, said she talked to Grove in his office and was set to meet with her representative, Megan Shroeder, this week.

She said her meeting with Grove did not go well, and she was not convinced Shroeder would do anything to stop the certification of the election and appoint new electors.

In the absence of action, she thought Trump supporters should be considering primaries in 2022 of insufficiently responsive Republicans.

“We are the boots on the ground for the Republican Party to get these people elected, and we’re disgusted, frustrated and furious,” Paige told the Capital-Star.

Grove, however, said he welcomed the challenge.

“If you’re coming into elected office, just worried about elections, you’re not doing the public’s business,” Grove said.

With audit rejected, lawmakers shift focus to future changes to Pa.’s election code