EAST PENNSBORO TWP, Pa. — President Donald Trump’s approval ratings might be in the tank and his legislative agenda might be foundering on Capitol Hill, but don’t try asking Dan Mosel if he has a case of buyer’s remorse.
“No way,” said Mosel, 76, a Trump voter, and one of about 700 conservative activists who packed a hotel ballroom just outside Pennsylvania’s state Capitol last weekend.
The president’s Russia troubles? That’s a fever dream of Democrats and the press. The collapse of health care reform? That’s House Speaker Paul Ryan’s fault. And don’t sweat tax reform — that’ll happen by August.
In short, all is well here in Trumplandia.
And Mosel and three of his friends, Rob Boysen, Bill Harper and Don Reimer, were feeling their conservative oats as they plowed through a lunch of deli sandwiches during the Keystone Leadership Conference, an annual shindig mostly put on by local conservative activist and occasional Republican office-seeker Lowman Henry.
Over a rainy weekend at a local Radisson hotel, attendees at this lower-case version of the Conservative Political Action Conference heard from an array of prominent figures from the political right, some of them elected, some of them activists and media personalities.
Speakers included U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, Andy Schlafly, son of the late conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly, and conservative media personalities like Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire and John Gizzi of NewsMax.
The collapse of the Ryancare bill was just fine with the Mosel and his lunchtime colleagues.
“The only thing Ryan had to do was introduce the repeal bill that passed 60 times in the House,” said Harper, who hails from Bucks County, a purplish Philadelphia suburb. “That would get the Freedom Caucus and a bill that would be acceptable to all sides.”
In his speech to activists, Perry predicted an eventual return to health care, saying Republicans needed to “get back in the huddle.”
“We just want to do what we told our voters we were going to do,” he said “I don’t want to criticize the play call. From my standpoint, we could have had an alternative. I don’t want to replace their version of socialism with our version of socialism,” he said.
The Freedom Caucus’ reticence prompted an angry Tweet from Trump, who took the bizarre step of threatening to run against them in 2018 if they failed to get onside.
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump wrote.
That move left Mosel and his friends shaking their heads.
“If he runs against conservatives, he’s going to lose support,” Boysen, also a Bucks County resident, said. “Going against the Freedom Caucus is a bad move on his part.”
The lunch-time gang also said Ryan might run aground if he’s not careful. Some activists have said it might be time to change horses in the Speaker’s office.
“If Ryan keeps doing what he’s doing, there’ll be a big push to get him out of there,” Boysen said. “He pushed this bad bill and the Freedom Caucus saw through it.”
With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to vote Monday to send Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination to the Senate floor, Toomey foreshadowed a major showdown with Democrats led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Republicans will do “whatever it takes” to get Gorsuch over the goal line, Toomey told the crowd. And that includes invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to pass him by a simple majority, rather than the usual 60 votes.
“In an interview following his speech, Toomey said “to the extent that it’s possible for me to be confident, I feel the confident the votes are there,” to break the 60-vote threshold and approve Gorsuch with a simple majority.
“I think so,” he said, when he was asked about the vote count. “It’s not as though we haven’t discussed this among ourselves. There’s nobody I know in the Republican Conference who is looking forward to having to do that. But there’s nobody that I know of in the Republican conference who thinks we should have a four- or eight-year series of vacancies on the Supreme Court.”
And when it comes to Trump’s Russia troubles and the mess surrounding House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, the lunch gang shrugged it off.
“It’s all the Democrats have been talking about,” said Reimer, who hails from Montgomery County, a majority-Democrat Philly suburb.
Asked if he thought Nunez should recuse himself, Mosel snorted and said, “Who’s he going to hand it over to? Trey Gowdy,” the former House GOP Benghazi inquisitor.
Reimer finished the thought, “It’s a Democratic ploy.”
Yep ... all is well here in Trumplandia.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.