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How (and why) Pat Toomey became a boogeyman in some GOP circles

To fully appreciate Trump’s impact on GOP politics, look no further than the conservative Republicans who’ve been deemed too liberal by the party’s base.


The 2012 election cycle was a rough one for the Republican Party. Democrats fared well up and down the ballot, and conservatives who’d invested heavily had little to show for their efforts.

As the dust settled, Karl Rove launched an initiative called the Conservative Victory Project intended to turn things around by protecting GOP incumbents from far-right primary challenges. Conservatives were not pleased. A spokesperson for the Club for Growth told Politico in early 2013, “They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst. We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

The fact that Toomey was included in the latter trio made sense. Indeed, the conservative Pennsylvania Republican used to lead the far-right Club for Growth, which played a similar role in GOP politics to what it plays now — routinely backing primary challengers running against members of the Republican “establishment.”

Nearly a decade later, however, Toomey is no longer seen as a conservative stalwart. On the contrary, in some GOP circles, he’s actually a boogeyman. The Hill reported the other day on Donald Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania, where the former president tried to generate support for celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who’s running to succeed Toomey.

Trump ... took aim at former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, Oz’s primary challenger in the Senate race, saying he is similar to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring from the upper chamber after his current term and was one of the seven Republican senators to vote to convict Trump last year.

“So, I don’t know David well, and he may be a nice guy, but he’s not MAGA. He’s not MAGA,” Trump said. “He’s more Toomey than he is MAGA.”

In Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, one GOP hopeful also ran an attack ad last month, slamming a rival as “Pat Toomey’s puppet.” The message was hardly subtle: To appeal to the Republican base in the Keystone State, it made sense to deride Toomey.

By most measures, this is quite bizarre. The retiring senator has a very conservative voting record, and was even one of the principal architects of Trump’s 2017 package of regressive tax breaks.

Now, according to the former president, Toomey should be seen as “terrible.”

In case this isn’t obvious, the GOP senator hasn’t changed. His party and its standards, however, have changed dramatically.

To drive home the point, consider how much company Toomey has. The Texas Tribune reports today, for example, that the Bush name has lost its political clout in the Lone Star State as the GOP moves further and further to the right. In North Carolina, Pat McCrory was a deeply conservative governor, who’s now seen as a “RINO” Senate candidate.

A decade ago, Mitt Romney was his party’s “severely conservative“ presidential nominee, and now he’s persona non grata for much of the right. Even John McCain’s name in Arizona is now “invoked as an insult“ by conservative Republicans.

To fully appreciate Trump’s impact on GOP politics, look no further than the conservative Republicans who’ve been deemed too liberal by the party’s base.