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Trump campaign plunges into brawl to control Pennsylvania GOP

Trump campaign plunges into brawl to control Pennsylvania GOP

Several top Trump associates have publicly endorsed Bernadette Comfort in the fight for Pennsylvania's vacant Republican chairmanship, including his his son, Donald Trump, Jr. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images elections Trump campaign plunges into brawl to control Pennsylvania GOP 'People are pretty disgusted with the whole thing,' one pol says of the fallout from a sexting…


Donald Trump, Jr.

Several top Trump associates have publicly endorsed Bernadette Comfort in the fight for Pennsylvania’s vacant Republican chairmanship, including his his son, Donald Trump, Jr. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

elections

Trump campaign plunges into brawl to control Pennsylvania GOP

‘People are pretty disgusted with the whole thing,’ one pol says of the fallout from a sexting scandal gripping the party.

Updated

Donald Trump’s campaign is injecting itself into a battle to lead Pennsylvania’s Republican Party — a race with serious implications for the president’s reelection hopes that has badly divided the GOP in the battleground state.

The fight for the state’s vacant Republican chairmanship was triggered when Val DiGiorgioresigned from the positiontwo weeks ago amid a scandal involving racy texts and allegations of sexual harassment. The episode set off fierce jockeying and backbiting within the state GOP, as Trump’s team tried to close ranks behind Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort, the party’s vice chairwoman for the past two years.

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But the Trump campaign’s involvement has not gone over well with some Pennsylvania Republicans, especially supporters of Comfort’s rival, attorney Lawrence Tabas. They argue that Trump’s advisers are unnecessarily taking sides in a local feud and could exacerbate longstanding power struggles within the state GOP.

The election on Saturday, to be decided by roughly 360 state GOP committee members, is expected to be close.

“People are pretty disgusted with the whole thing,” said Scott Wagner, a Republican donor who was the party’s unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial nominee. “I’m afraid it’s going to backfire. It may be damaging to the president. This is sort of like a family issue. We don’t need interference from the outside.”

strongly denies the claims of sexual harassment, saying that his communications with a city council candidate uncovered by the Philadelphia Inquirer were “entirely consensual.”

Tabas’ backers say he will help boost fundraising for the state party, which has had financing issues in recent years, and enjoys relationships with Republican leaders across the state from his days serving as general counsel of the Pennsylvania GOP. For instance, former state GOP chairman Rob Gleason supports Tabas.

“Bottom line, it’s about who can raise money,” said Mike Cibik, a pro-Tabas state committee member.

Barletta said he likely would have remained neutral if Trump’s campaign hadn’t gotten involved.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help the president win here in Pennsylvania, and feel that since they have obviously made a choice, that I am going to follow their leadership,” Barletta said. He added that “it seems to make sense not to have a big change” at the top of the party when the presidential election is around the corner.

Party insiders say the election is cleaving along geographical lines. But the sorting isn’t necessarily predictable: Many of Comfort’s allies are in the more moderate part of the state in the southeast, and several of Tabas’ supporters hail from the Trump-friendly west.

The race has also pitted two of the party’s donors against each other. Wagner, who is behind Tabas, shot off an email to supporters assailing the pro-Comfort Republican National Committee member Bob Asher for “working the phones calling people to influence who becomes the next party chairman,” and saying his “politics have left our party bitterly fractured and highly dysfunctional.” Wagner is calling for Asher to be removed from his position in the party.

That’s not it: Some of Comfort’s supporters have accused Tabas of going against Trump’s wishes by staying in the race, while a handful of Tabas’ allies have labeled Comfort a onetime “Never Trumper.” Comfort has repeatedly said she is firmly behind Trump. But it’s a familiar concern in the party: DiGiorgio, who initially backed Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 primary, was seen as insufficiently pro-Trump by some Republicans.

Charlie Gerow, a state committee member and GOP consultant who is backing Tabas, said Trump’s aides should not have taken sides.

“If he’s speaking on behalf of the campaign, I think he’s making a major mistake,” Gerow said of a recent tweet in which Parscale announced his support for Comfort. “I would say stay the hell out of it. There’s no good scenario. Even if you win, you have bruised feelings that need to be healed.”

Cibik said of the Trump campaign’s involvement: “I’m flabbergasted. I just don’t get that.”

When Tabas ran against DiGiorgio for party chair in 2017, he lost by only two votes. The battle bruised the party, and in its wake, Republicans lost three congressional seats, the gubernatorial and Senate elections, and numerous state positions.

“We’ve got to be one team to help President Trump in Pennsylvania,” said Barletta. “We cannot be divided at the end of this process.”

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  • Elections
  • Pennsylvania
  • Donald Trump
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  • Brad Parscale
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