If you were casting a movie and a part called for a U.S. congressman, you'd probably order up an actor who looks exactly like my representative, Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania's 7th District, the disfigured district that starts with Meehan's base in Delaware County and then snakes wherever the computer could find more Republicans to guarantee his re-election.
Meehan's a tall guy, with that Roman shock of white hair, thick eyelashes and a measured bearing that speaks to his long career as a prosecutor before he was elected to Congress in 2010. His low-key demeanor is meant to speak to his image, politically, as a moderate Republican, a middle of the road guy. He aimed to cement that reputation last summer when he declared himself a #NeverTrump guy (unlike his Senate ally Pat Toomey, who waited until 6:45 p.m. Election Day to announce his vote for the Orange One) who actually cast a write-in vote for Mike Pence. Or so he says.
Not surprisingly, Meehan gets touted for higher office almost every time a major race is on the horizon. With 2018 already looming on the far horizon (more on that in a moment), the Pennsylvania GOP -- intoxicated with itself after President Trump narrowly carried the state -- is looking to take out the state's two top Democrats next year, Gov. Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey. This weekend, Meehan surprised a lot of political observers by taking himself out of that chase. He announced he wouldn't challenge Casey, preferring to amass clout as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
In the headline to this piece, I opined that Meehan just made the mistake of a lifetime -- but his mistake is NOT turning down the chance to oppose Casey. Actually, his big mistake in 2017 is really two mistakes 1) Assuming that his re-election to House will be a cake walk in 2018, when there's already signs that an angry "wave" election, at least in affluent coastal suburbs, could swamp the GOP and 2) Offering voters in his centrist suburban district zero evidence so far that he'll be a counterweight to Trump and the authoritarian abuses of his nascent presidency.
In fact, check this out:
The data-driven political website Five Thirty-Eight has begun keeping score for members of Congress in the Trump era; specifically, the website looks at how often House members and senators side with Trump compared to what you might expect, given the politics of each district. You can see why Meehan was eager to write in Pence, as Hillary Clinton won his 7th CD in November by 2.3 percentage points. And yet so far Meehan has voted with Trump's position on this issues 88.9 percent of the time. That makes his "Trump score" 23rd among the 247 House Republicans. That means he's in the top 10 percent of all House Republicans; what's more he has the highest "Trump score" in Pennsylvania!
First the good news: Meehan did buck Trump and the rest of his party on one vote, a measure that would increase methane pollution -- which has a dramatic impact on climate change -- from oil and gas drilling. But the supposed independent thinker has voted the Trump line on everything else as the House races to gut other environmental protections and takes the first steps toward repealing Obamacare. Indeed, "moderate" Meehan has been outspoken in his support of repealing the Affordable Care Act -- even as state officials say nearly 700,000 of the state's working poor, which includes a sizable contingent in Southeastern Pennsylvania, will lose Medicaid coverage.
Oh, and that Trump travel ban? -- the un-American move that triggered huge protests from coast to coast, broke families apart, and that even some of Meehan's fellow Pennsylvania Republicans like Rep. Charlie Dent called "ridiculous"? The best that write-in Pence voter Pat Meehan could muster is that he's "torn" over the measure.
In 21 months, it may be the voters in Meehan's 7th District who are "torn" over what to do. Yes, Meehan has a wellspring of personal popularity, and that crazy-shaped district was designed with one goal in mind, a Republican victory. But things change in politics. Some of the blue-collar Delco river towns that swung toward Trump in 2016 were carved out of the 7th by the mapmakers, while the affluent heart of Meehan's seat, like upscale Radnor, flipped hard for Clinton, thanks to women completely alienated by The Donald's misogynistic shtick. Those same women are now the ones out there protesting every week, crowding Sen. Pat Toomey's office and demanding "no" votes on repealing Obamacare and Trump's anti-education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
Despite its reputation as a blood-red Republican district, voters in the 7th bolted for the Democrats twice in modern times -- in 1974, when a liberal minister named Bob Edgar grabbed the seat and again in 2006, when former admiral Joe Sestak was elected. Those elections had one thing in common -- hugely unpopular presidents, with Richard Nixon in the depths of Watergate and George W. Bush in the depths of the many things he screwed up. With Trump the most unpopular new president in the history of modern polling, could lightning strike in Delco a third time?