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Barletta, Marino back away from trump

Former Hazleton Mayor and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, along with a colleague, U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., were among the first political leaders in the state to throw in their lot with then candidate Donald Trump in 2015 when he announced he was running for president in 2016.

In fact, their dedication to the Trump brand in the face of so much condemnation from more mainstream Republicans during Trump’s early candidacy was so compelling that they traveled the state and elsewhere on his behalf and became known as Thunder and Lightning.

Their unflinching support, along with other factors that fell into place, paid off, and in one of the most dramatic upsets in U.S. political history Trump broke the Democratic stranglehold on giving the state its Electoral College votes for the first time since 1992 to the Republican candidate.

Fast forward seven years, and Thunder and Lightning are now singing a different tune, and, quite frankly, who can blame them? Last year, when Barletta was one of seven GOP candidates running for governor, he had hoped for and expected Trump’s support. Instead it went to Sen. Doug Mastriano, whom many in the state Republican Party knew pretty clearly could not possibly beat the presumptive Democratic candidate, Josh Shapiro, who went on to trounce Mastriano in the General Election last November by about 800,000 votes.

Several mainstream Republicans, including State Sen. Jake Corman, who originally was in the race for governor, realized that to head off Mastriano’s disastrous nomination they would have to back a consensus alternate who happened to be Barletta. Marino was one of the prime Republicans who also championed Barletta’s nomination, insisting that Mastriano did not stand a chance because of his far out policies and beliefs.

But the effort was too little, too late. To nail the coffin shut on Barletta, two days after Corman dropped out of the primary race and threw his support to Barletta, Trump came out with an endorsement of Mastriano, which infuriated Barletta, Marino and other Republicans.

Now that Trump has announced that he is a candidate for president in 2024, you can bet your sweet life that Barletta, Marino and others who felt that the former president had made a major blunder in backing Mastriano will not adopt a “forgive and forget” attitude.

Trump’s support of Mastriano and of U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, who also lost what was expected to be a Republican win to possibly flip the Senate in the GOP’s favor, was the straw that broke the elephant’s back, according to the former chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Committee, Rob Gleason, who also was an early Trump supporter and helped him take the state over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

For 2024, Barletta and Marino are all in once again, but this time they are encouraging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare his candidacy, because they feel that he has the best chance of winning back Pennsylvania and the presidency from Democrat Joe Biden, who while not officially has announced his intentions to run for re-election is expected to do so.

DeSantis has not indicated whether he will be a candidate in ’24. He said he plans to wait until the current Florida legislative session is over in late spring before making his intentions known.

DeSantis’ activities have all the markings of a presidential candidate. He is barnstorming the country pushing his book, “Courage to be Free,” which has jumped to the top of The New York Times’ Best-Sellers List. His recent visit to Iowa, one of the Republicans’ early primary states, indicates that DeSantis is dipping his big toe into the presidential primary pond to take its temperature.

DeSantis is scheduled to speak on April 1 in Harrisburg at the annual Pennsylvania Leadership conference.

Washington strategist David Urban, who was Trump’s Pennsylvania adviser in 2016, said Barletta’s and Marino’s endorsement of DeSantis is “a symbolic big deal.”

I find it more than a little ironic that Trump, who puts so much stock into loyalty from his supporters, was so disloyal to Barletta when he sought the governorship in 2022. As the saying goes: “Payback’s a b----.”

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.