We’re roughly midway through an odd-numbered election year so, without fail, the political insiders are pining for a big dog to emerge. That’s the hoped-for creature, whose early, impressive funding and widespread support will “clear the field” of any meaningful opposition to his or her bid for some nomination, a year off in the distance. Properly managed, this pup will negate the dreaded, assumed “bruising primary.” If news reports are accurate then we have a sighting of said critter here in the Keystone State: David McCormick of recent, narrow vanquishing at the combined hands of Dr. Mehmet Oz and Oz’s then chief patron, Donald Trump.
Mr. McCormick clearly has part one locked down: The money — the tougher half of the nut to crack. He spent a lot of it in 2022. You may recall hearing, via those many $millions, where McCormick went to college (Westpoint); that he served with distinction in the Army; and that he is still a regular guy (a Princeton degree and a seat on The Atlantic Council board aside) despite his mega success as a corporate CEO. He didn’t mention that last part as much. No doubt, that’s all very impressive by him. A great resume. However these are not necessarily accomplishments to which only conservatives can lay claim. There are plenty of military veterans, some who served at great personal sacrifice, presently in Congress who are quite liberal. There are successful, progressive, former corporate CEOs there too. Thus voters generally look to candidate resumes last. Issues, policy positions, electability, personality and so forth seem to matter far more to them than a candidate’s alma mater or accolades, unwise though this may be. We have our Ivy-educated politicians. They have theirs. One more, or less, for either side won’t make much difference to anyone.
So assuming policy matters most, what did we learn about McCormick’s from all of those massive 2022 ad buys? As best I can recall, aside from mouthing a couple of requisite GOP team labels — “I’m pro-gun and pro-life” — what he mainly told us again and again was that Dr. Oz was not really a true red, Republican elephant, but a much more sinister animal — the despised purple/bluish “RINO.” Further, six months into his second foray for office he still has not defined his pro-life claim despite the debate now engulfing the GOP on what a post-Dobbs pro-life Party needs to be if it hopes to both lead and survive? Federal protection for the fetus at 20 weeks; 6 weeks; NEVER, i.e., a Steven Douglas like, “popular sovereignty” repeal of the existing, bipartisan, Federal partial birth procedure ban? An interesting direction that would be for the Party of Lincoln? If Captain McCormick thinks he can lead Pennsylvania’s Republicans from the rear on this, then he fatally misapprehends his State, his Party, and the issue, and he is probably being badly advised. Even Bob Casey Jr. finally took a stand.
OK, then what about part two — early support from Party leaders, office holders, activists, fundraisers, etc.? Trust me. They are mostly doing what they normally do: following the money (part one) right into the bag. But should they? Is that the right play if retiring turncoat Bob Casey is our top goal here in PA? And will it hold up, once the voters have their say?
It is not. It will not.
Claims to big dog status (after the sufficient-money box is checked) always focus on the aspiring field-clearer’s self-proclaimed “electability.” Believe that once you’ve seen it though. David McCormick is as unproven as any other previously defeated candidate. Money alone doesn’t change that any more than it did for him the first time around. Financial backing may be a preliminary requirement for ultimate victory, but it alone is never dispositive. No one should know this better than the insiders. Nothing about Mr. McCormick’s 2022 loss to Mehmet Oz clearly indicates that he can ultimately defeat a proven, state-wide, general election vote getter like Bob Casey Jr.
Further, Mr. McCormick is not a conservative in some very important ways. For instance: If conservatives have learned anything since 1973 it’s that our self-governing land can not tolerate judicial usurpation of tough policy questions. One Party’s unelected judges versus the other’s is no way to run a Republic – if we are true to ourselves and our best ideas on governance. But McCormick, despite all we have learned from the Court’s corrosive, illegitimate interference in the past, signed a brief urging the Supreme Court to disregard the people’s elected officials as to which intimate relationships ought to be sanctioned by the state. Now, whatever your positions on the underlying policies regarding polygamy, incestuous relationships, age of consent limits, same-sex unions, elective sterilization of children, etc., urging five liberal lawyers to decree that 3000 years of legal tradition is based solely on “bigotry” and “animus” is NOT a conservative posture; especially when one justification for such legal distinctions is so patently reasonable, i.e. that no member of the next generation of humans ever originates from anything other than the union of two very specific cells from one male and one female.
If legislators want to disregard the facts of sixth grade biology, as Congress and President Biden recently did, that’s their legislative prerogative. We deserve who we elect. Heck, perhaps they will determine next that we get to choose our sex— even minors without parental involvement. Ya think? But even if that natural, predicted progression from the Court’s earlier edicts occurs, we could still muddle through as a society somehow, because those who know better will live to have their say on another day in that same, legitimate federal legislature, or at least in ongoing Congressional races. In a true democracy, a free society, no question (even the seemingly odious one) is ever off limits for discussion and debate, especially since mistakes by human institutions are so common. But where do we go once we have been told that a matter is “settled”? To whom do we appeal once we are instructed by the Court that its word is “final” as though it infallibly comes down from Mt. Sinai itself, and that we must accept what we know to be a mistaken, unwise and destabilizing policy from five jurists of an opposing Party? The streets? Legislation without representation is unacceptable because it is unsustainable. Instead, we must trust the founder’s process. Keep power separated. Acquiescing to one small, cloistered branch of government’s assertion of unchecked “finality”undermines that time-tested wisdom. McCormicks’s confusion on this pillar is kind of a dealbreaker for this conservative, Pennsylvania Republican. I am not alone. Not by a long stretch.
In order to ultimately unseat Mr. Casey, any PA Republican nominee must have enthusiastic support from pro-life conservatives. It can’t happen otherwise. I know this community well. They understand that the abortion question’s centrality flows from our very understanding of ourselves as both a Nation and as a species. Are we creatures, with meaning and value, purposefully made, male and female, with dignity, in the image and likeness of a loving Creator; a people who must, despite our infinite variety (diversity if you prefer) all be seen as equals when they stand before the government? Or, are we mere dust — meaningless accidents of a complex yet ultimately unexplainable material reality, who are destined to eventual oblivion, no matter what the government does about it?
Do we as a Nation, corporately, still place a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence” for our national well being as our founding Declaration affirms? Or, have we, as a people, set out to sea on a ship of state made only of human reliance? How one answers these first questions informs all of one’s policy choices. Reject the traditional understanding of the source of our equality – something given by our Creator — in favor of Court imposed legal/political mandates, then ultimately everything we cherish — every freedom, and the peace and prosperity they enable — becomes fair game for those with the will to seek such power, and the right five lawyers in their corner.
Anyone who calls himself a conservative has a duty to answer this question: What do I seek to conserve? The pro-life community understands this. It knows that the right of the fetus to its life (surely, at bare minimum, after it is viable outside the womb) or to be spared hideous, painful dismemberment once it can feel the scalpel, can never . . . will never be vindicated in a society that lets its courts issue decrees on the difficult questions. Mr. McCormick does not get this. Hopefully one day he will. In the meantime I’ll keep looking for a candidate to oppose Mr. Casey who does, because that dog may seem big, but he won’t run where it matters most.
John Coffey is an attorney and former congressional staffer and candidate who writes from Ardmore. PA.