Baer: The Pat Toomey straddle

Sen. Pat Toomey, facing a reelection bid, seems to be taking a wait-and-see stance on Donald Trump.

ANYONE WHO'S ever straddled anything knows that during a straddle, one is in an exposed, precarious position.

Don't make me spell it out. Just picture it.

So it's curious and telling that Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, already facing what the political world sees as a danger-filled reelection bid, stands splayed on a couple key issues.

First, there's The Donald.

Toomey backed Marco Rubio, voted for Ted Cruz, and now is "inclined" to support Trump for president.

But boy, is he straddling that inclination.

In op-ed pieces in the Inquirer last weekend and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday, Toomey called Trump's candidacy "highly problematic"; wrote that he objects to "much of" Trump's manner and policies; and said that Trump's "vulgarity, particularly toward women, is appalling."

Yet the senator is "inclined" to be with Trump, might split if differences become "irreconcilable," yet added, "I hope that doesn't happen."


That, my friends, is a straddle bordering on a full gymnastic split. It's gotta hurt.

Still, it's telling. It's about winning. And for Toomey to win, he needs to hold Republicans, win some independents, and win some Democrats.

So he can't totally p.o. Trump supporters (who handed The Donald every single county in April's GOP primary), and he can't totally alienate women while running against a woman, Democrat Katie McGinty.

A straddle makes political sense.

Remember, Toomey's seat is ranked among the nation's most vulnerable.

He only narrowly won a first term six years ago, and that was in an off-year election during a Republican wave. Now he's running in a presidential year, and that almost always means higher Democratic turnout in Pennsylvania, which is why a Democrat carried the state in the last six presidential elections.

But a straddle buys time.

It would seem backing Trump right now carries a deep downside. A Gallup Poll last month showed 70 percent of women hold an unfavorable view of Trump.

On the other hand, a Quinnipiac University poll released this week shows the Trump/Clinton race a virtual dead heat in Pennsylvania: Clinton 43, Trump 42.

Also, it shows both at about the same level of high unfavorable ratings here: Clinton 58, Trump 55.

If Toomey's thinking, "Let's give this puppy space and time to settle in and stretch out before deciding whether The Donald gets a dis or a kiss," that's thinking strategically.

After all, this is politics, where positions and principles tend to be malleable.

It's sort of like Toomey's stance on President Obama's Supreme Court nominees.

As a Senate candidate in 2009, Toomey said he'd vote for Obama's then-nominee Sonia Sotomayor because "qualifications should matter more than ideology."

This year, Toomey said Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, should not even get a Senate hearing because that "might mislead people into thinking that this is just about the qualifications of the candidate."

Whew. A tad dizzying, no?

Toomey declined an opportunity to chat about this or Trump or anything.

But, look, I'm not someone who thinks Toomey's toast.

Pennsylvania has a history of splitting votes in presidential/Senate years. The state hasn't had two elected Democrats serve together since (briefly in) the mid-1940s. Toomey has and will have tons of money.

And, of course, he knows how to straddle, which in politics, as in life, can be protective - or precarious.