Republicans roll dice as Trump headlines Pennsylvania Society event
The thing about circuses is they can require a lot of cleaning up after they leave.
Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders are betting the clean-up will be worth it, though, after GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump finishes headlining a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for the party at New York’s landmark Plaza Hotel on Dec. 11, when the state’s political class gathers in the city to attend the annual Pennsylvania Society events.
Photos with Trump will cost $2,500.
“It’ll cause some excitement,” state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason said of Trump’s appearance.
That’s key for the annual Commonwealth Club Luncheon this year, because several members of the Legislature say they plan to skip the weekend’s events if lawmakers have not enacted a budget.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani headlined the lunch last year, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — one of Trump’s rivals — gave the keynote speech the year before that, Gleason said.
“I try to create a lot of interest,” he said.
Public interest is the currency of Trump’s campaign, maintained by a wild amalgam of anti-establishment bombast, off-the-cuff remarks that offend vast swaths of the electorate, and a willingness to bulldoze past pundits and fact-checkers.
The business magnate and TV personality began his campaign with a speech that infuriated Latinos.
He alienated veterans when he denigrated Arizona Sen. John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war, and angered women with his comments during and after the first GOP debate.
He turned off Muslim Americans by — among other things — repeating a widely debunked story about “thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. This week, Trump drew widespread condemnation when he appeared to mock the physical disability of a reporter who disputed his account of the celebrations.
Yet the billionaire has maintained his front-runner status in polling almost without interruption for months, defying predictions that a successful politician cannot dedicate himself to the impolitic.
“I’m not going to support him, but I think that he’s colorful and a lot of people will come just to hear him talk, even if they anticipate he might say something crazy,” said Jim Roddey, chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.
That “something crazy” could cause trouble for a party trying to win Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for the first time since 1988.
“They need to do everything they can to build excitement,” said Jeff Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Trump excites, but it’s a risk; the state’s Republicans tend toward the party’s moderate wing, Brauer said.
“At some level, I can’t blame them for reaching out to Donald Trump, but it could end up backfiring a bit, as far as what the average Republican in Pennsylvania really cares about and who they’re going to end up supporting,” he said.
In addition to galvanizing political opposition, Trump has displayed eagerness to attack his fellow Republicans personally.
“If you want to unite your party,” Brauer said, “he’s not necessarily the best choice.”
Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or [email protected].