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EDITORIAL: No choice in the 11th

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Rep. Lloyd Smucker, who is running for the 11th District, at York Fair in West Manchester Township, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker is hands-down the stronger candidate in the race for Pennsylvania's 11th Congressional District.

And yet, we still cannot endorse him.

Smucker's challenger, Democrat Sarah Hammond, struggled to form a coherent political narrative when meeting with us. 

When pressed, Hammond would not say whether she would boost taxes on most Americans to fund the many social programs for which she's calling.

She criticized Smucker's response to the coronavirus pandemic, but was unable to counter with a viable alternative, saying only she would be active in the community.

We couldn't pin Hammond down about her support for universal health care, even though access to medical treatment is among the issues which, she said, is driving her campaign. 

Hammond spoke passionately, though vaguely, about climate change and the need to address the agricultural sector's role in propelling it. And, again, she failed to provide specific policy proposals beyond talking to farmers. 

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Pennsylvania House candidate for the 169th District Sarah Hammond speaks during the 2018 State of the County Committee Breakfast at Wisehaven Event Center in Windsor Township, Saturday, April 7, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Hammond, who has done stints working at a not-for-profit and for Hanover's recreation program, would be best served seeking local office.

Hammond is an activist who desperately wants to help people. But, right now, she does not possess the basic understanding of the complex interplay between federal, state and local government to be a viable option for voters.

That leaves Smucker, who, by nature of his two terms in Congress and previous life as a state lawmaker, offers a cohesive political paradigm.

And it's easy to see why conservative voters like him. He's engaging, interesting and clearly believes he's acting in the interest of his community.

In a different moment in U.S. history, we very well might be tossing our support behind Smucker.

But this is the era of President Donald Trump and, whether Smucker likes it or not, any Republican incumbent will and should be judged by his or her service to the White House.

That's especially true during a global pandemic that the White House has badly flubbed and racial unrest, which Trump personally inflames.

On both counts, Smucker's stalwart defense of the president, whether political or sincere, is out of step with reality. 

Smucker's record is demonstrably Trumpy. In fact, Smucker broke just a few times over the past two years with Trump on issues of consequence. And two of those instances were toothless resolutions, which condemned Trump's withdrawal of troops from Syria and lifting of sanctions on Russia. 

Smucker's most notable break with Trump was in July when he, and most Republicans, backed a military funding package the White House opposed.

Frankly, vote after vote, Smucker has, by and large, been in lockstep with a White House that neither respects Congress nor the limits of presidential power.

But, due to the chaos of this moment, objective measures, such as simply counting votes, aren't enough to capture the sycophancy that's been on display by congressional Republicans throughout Trump's presidency.

Day after day, this president has attacked his political opponents, minorities and the U.S. Constitution itself. And consistently, Smucker has either defended the president or said nothing. 

Silence is, in a real political sense, tacit approval.

Of late, however, Smucker has been more willing to chastise Trump's most dangerous statements, especially the president's war on the election itself. Smucker's was a welcome and important defense of the democratic system when he criticized Trump's war on mail-in ballots.

Perhaps, with Trump on the cusp of filling his third seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and trailing in the polls, Republicans believe they're more free to challenge the man who's turned their party into a cult of personality.

Yet, Smucker's recent actions do not negate years of ring-kissing that's weakened the republic for a generation.

Rep. Lloyd Smucker is the only viable candidate in the race for Pennsylvania's 11th. But we cannot support him.

The York Dispatch does not endorse in this race.